A coronavirus patient was arrested Thursday after prosecutors said he jumped a fence and fled the Nashville Fairgrounds, where health officials are using enforceable quarantines in an attempt to control an outbreak at an emergency homeless shelter.
This appears to be the first case in Nashville of police making an arrest to enforce coronavirus restrictions enacted by the local government.
The Tennessean is not naming the man to protect his privacy and because the charge is a misdemeanor.
According to an arrest affidavit, a 39-year-old man was taken to the Nashville Fairgrounds on Monday and placed under quarantine by the Metro Nashville Public Health Department because he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Health officials told the man he could not leave until he was cleared, but on Thursday he jumped a fence and headed north on Nolensville Road, the affidavit states. He was stopped and arrested by Metro Nashville Parks police by a city cemetery nearly two miles from where he had been quarantined.
Metro Parks has charged the man with a single count of escape from a penal institution, a class A misdemeanor. The statute that defines this crime makes no mention of it being used to enforce quarantine orders. When asked about the legal authority to make this arrest, the Metro Health Department cited a different section of law that classifies violating quarantine as a class B misdemeanor, which is a less serious offense.
Brian Todd, spokesman for the Metro Health Department, said that law empowers police to arrest anyone who violates an infectious disease quarantine. The laws are not specific to residents of homeless shelters and could also be used to arrest someone who violates a Metro Health order to remain in quarantine at their home or a hospital.
The arrest highlights the difference between people merely advised to remain at home and those who are ordered into quarantine. Residents across Nashville have been instructed by the mayor to remain at home as much as possible, but those who venture outside don’t face arrest. However, residents who test positive for coronavirus can be ordered into quarantine, which police can enforce.
“That individual, along with anyone else who has tested positive or symptomatic, is being held in medical isolation at the Downtown Detention Center,” DCSO spokeswoman Karla West said Friday.
Under medical isolation, West added, individual inmates are held in single cells.