Mississippi residents flouting the state’s newly imposed order for anyone infected with COVID-19 to isolate at home could face criminal charges and time behind bars.
The Mississippi State Department of Health on Friday issued an order (pdf), with immediate effect, requiring anyone infected with COVID-19, including those fully vaccinated, to isolate for 10 days at home or another “appropriate residential location.”
“All persons residing in Mississippi must immediately home-isolate on first knowledge of infection with COVID-19,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs wrote in the “isolation order,” which notes two levels of potential punishment—one as a misdemeanor and the other as a felony.
“The failure or refusal to obey the lawful order of a health officer is, at a minimum, a misdemeanor,” punishable by a $500 fine and/or six months in jail, Dobbs wrote in the order, adding that “if a life-threatening disease is involved,” the charges could rise to a felony punishable by up to $5,000 and/or five years behind bars.
Dobbs wrote that infected people undergoing isolation at home should avoid contact with other household members and, if this is unavoidable, wear a mask.
While a negative COVID-19 test is not required to end home isolation after 10 days, people must be fever-free for at least 24 hours.
The move comes as Mississippi faces a surge in infections, with hospitalizations and ICU bed occupancy at or near pandemic highs, although daily deaths remain at about half their pandemic peak, according to state health data.
Mississippi health officials have reported 7,249 new infections and 56 COVID-19 related deaths for the three-day period between Aug. 20-22.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Mississippi were close to their pandemic peak on Aug. 22, with 1,563 patients with confirmed infections in the hospital, 465 in the ICU, and 329 on ventilators.
With beds running short, Mississippi authorities earlier in August moved to open a 50-bed field hospital in a parking garage of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, according to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reeves said in an Aug. 22 tweet that a 23-person active-duty military COVID-19 response team arrived on Saturday in Jackson to supplement medical staffing.