Woman arrested after not treating, isolating for active tuberculosis

A Washington woman was just arrested after not following advice from her doctors nor mandates from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to get treated for or isolate because of her active case of tuberculosis.

Ars Technica explains:

As the January 2022 court documents noted, "The Local Health Officer ordered [the woman] to self-isolate and treat; which she declined to do. [The woman] has not complied with such efforts, has discontinued treatment and is unwilling to resume treatment or voluntarily self-isolate." As such, the health department was seeking an order "requiring [the woman] to isolate in her residence [and] cooperate with testing and treatment as recommended by medical providers."

The court issued an order for involuntary isolation, but it did little good. The woman continued to refuse treatment and isolation, according to an order issued on January 26, 2022. The order was renewed on February 14, 2022—and then again on February 24, and again on March 24, April 19, May 17, June 28, July 27, August 25, September 27, October 21, November 18, and December 16.

Last month the health department, it seems, reached a breaking point. Not only was the woman nearing the one-year mark for violating court orders, but she also got into a car accident, which appeared to underscore her negligence. According to a supplemental court document filed by the health department on January 11, the woman had been in the car accident as a passenger—meaning she had not been in isolation at home where she was meant to be and was in close contact with the driver, who would have been at risk of contracting tuberculosis during such close, confined contact.

The woman also tested positive for COVID-19 after going to the hospital after her car accident. Were arrest and incarceration the answers here? Maybe so, probably not. I don't know whether the woman had the financial resources to isolate and miss work, or to afford treatment — that's a really important part of the story that's missing. Of course, freely spreading potentially deadly diseases is a terrible thing. And we should be working hard to ensure our healthcare system can help people who might not have the means to afford services. We should also urge everyone to think more carefully about how all of our actions affect the health of others. Public health relies on ALL of us, and on functioning, accessible healthcare systems, in order to work!