Long Beach can now force you to quarantine; what does that mean?

Yesterday, Long Beach health officials issued new rules saying anyone believed to have COVID-19—whether they’ve been tested or not—must self-isolate. In addition, anyone who may have been exposed to the disease, even if the person isn’t showing symptoms, is required to quarantine.

These are no longer optional rules. Until last night, these guidelines from the health department were only strong suggestions, according to city officials. Now they come with misdemeanor penalties—meaning scofflaws could be fined or jailed for a short time.

Not only that, Long Beach health officials say they now have the ability to force someone into “civil detention at a health facility or other location” if they believe the person is putting the public at risk by spreading COVID-19.

These extreme steps are necessary because the new coronavirus is “an exponentially increasing public health risk to the Long Beach community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.

Long Beach’s decision to issue the pair of orders came a week after Los Angeles County put their own versions into effect. The county order didn’t apply to Long Beach, because the city has its own health department, meaning it sets its own rules.

In a statement, city officials said they decided to follow suit because of a “significant increase in individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in Long Beach.” As of Wednesday, there had been two deaths linked to COVID-19 and 139 confirmed cases, but that is certainly an undercount because supplies have been so limited that not even all suspected cases are being tested.

So what must you do according to the new orders? That depends on the situation.

Isolation and quarantining are similar, but they refer to two different groups of people. Someone in self-isolation is already sick. By contrast, someone may be quarantined by health officials before they’re showing any symptoms in an effort to separate healthy people from those possibly carrying the virus.

If you’re sick, you must isolate:

Anyone diagnosed with or who is “likely” to have COVID-19 is required to go into self-isolation, according to Long Beach.

That means anyone who falls into three categories:

  • Anyone with a positive lab test for COVID-19
  • Anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of being in contact with someone else who likely had COVID-19
  • Or anyone who’s been told by a physician they likely have COVID-19

If you meet any of those criteria, city officials say you must isolate yourself for at least seven days since your symptoms first appeared. And before you break isolation, you must be symptom-free for at least 72 hours.

Rules for isolation are strict. As the city describes it:

“Anyone required to isolate may not leave their place of isolation or enter any other public or private place, except to receive necessary medical care. Furthermore, anyone in self-isolation is required to notify any close contacts of their potential exposure so they may self-quarantine.”

This means even staying away from people in your own household. City officials say you must stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if at all possible. Even touching household pets is something that shouldn’t be done, they say.

On Wednesday, Long Beach put out a full list of rules and guidelines for anyone who must isolate.

If you’ve been around someone sick, you must quarantine:

Under the orders, anyone who’s had “close contact” with a COVID-19 patient or likely COVID-19 patient must self-quarantine.

According to the city, someone in close contact means:

  • Anyone who lives with or often visits a home where there’s someone likely sick with COVID-19
  • Any intimate partners or caregivers for a likely COVID-19 patient
  • Anyone who’s had contact with someone who’s likely sick with COVID-19 while they had symptoms. In this case, “contact” means being within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes or being in contact with “bodily secretions” like coughs or sneezes

If you meet any of those criteria, city officials say you must quarantine yourself for 14 days since your last contact with the sick person. That’s because it can take up to two weeks for someone infected with the coronavirus to start showing symptoms.

So what does quarantine mean? It’s similar to self-isolation. In essence: Stay home. Don’t take any visitors and separate yourself from other people in your home.

The city still wants you to stay as isolated as possible but, officials said, “If you have no choice but to go out for essential supplies and you still have no symptoms, you can go out but be as quick as you can, go at a time when the store is not as busy, and stay at least 6 feet away from others as much as possible.”

On Wednesday, Long Beach also put out a full list of rules and guidelines for anyone who must quarantine.

Even if you’re not told to go into quarantine or isolation, Long Beach is still ordering people to stay home as much as possible and follow social distancing procedures under its “Safer-at-home” rules. Those, too, can come with misdemeanor penalties if people break them.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children.