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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone January 11, 2022

No, Washington state isn’t considering involuntary COVID-19 quarantines

If Your Time is short

  • Washington’s State Board of Health is discussing proposed rule changes to its administrative code, but they are related to HIV language, not to quarantine or isolation policies.

  • The proposed changes do not suggest that law enforcement be used to enforce COVID-19 vaccination.

  • There is no vote scheduled on requiring COVID-19 vaccines for children to attend school. An advisory group assigned to make a recommendation on that subject is expected to give an update on its progress.

The Washington State Board of Health has a meeting scheduled for Jan. 12, and social media users warned that officials were planning to discuss changes that would allow authorities to detain unvaccinated people in quarantine facilities, and also to require COVID-19 vaccines for children to attend school.

Fears residents had about being taken against their will to an isolation site are unfounded, however. And any decision about whether to require vaccines for students is a long way off.

A Facebook post shares a flyer that reads: "The WA State Board of Health will discuss applying current infectious disease WAC codes to include COVID-19 for all WA state residents."

It goes on to say the changes will allow health officials to use law enforcement to detain individuals or families in an isolation facility if they don’t comply with requests for testing, treatment and vaccination. It also says the board will discuss adding COVID-19 vaccines to school immunization requirements.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

After getting more than 25,000 emails about the meeting agenda, the board posted an article saying it wanted "to clarify some misinformation that has circulated online regarding two topics on the agenda."

First, the board said that item nine on its agenda is related to rulemaking, but that it is not voting to change isolation or quarantine policies at the meeting, "nor does it suggest law enforcement be used to enforce any vaccination requirements."

It is continuing a November rules hearing on proposed changes to the Washington Administrative Code to bring it in line with a state law that went into effect in June 2020.

That bill was intended to modernize state’s laws on the control of communicable diseases "by ending statutory HIV/AIDS exceptionalism, reducing HIV-related stigma, defelonizing HIV exposure, and removing barriers to HIV testing," according to the board.

The changes being discussed at the hearing are related solely to HIV language and have zero overlap with COVID-19, said Keith Grellner, chairperson of the State Board of Health, in an interview with PolitiFact.

Grellner said this chapter has been in place since before 1988. It was updated in 2003 with a section geared toward HIV, but also to other highly contagious diseases. 

One of the many sections of that code relates to the procedures health officials could use to forcibly put a person into isolation or quarantine. In short, Grellner said, a health officer does not have the authority to quarantine someone against their will — only a judge could make such an order. 

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"The only communicable disease I'm aware that it's ever been used for is tuberculosis," said Grellner.

Regardless, it is not something the board is discussing or considering, he said.

"It's never been talked about. There's no plans to use that for COVID. There are no plans or resources or locations to set up involuntary isolation or quarantine camps," Grellner added. "That's a complete falsehood. It doesn't exist. It's never been discussed."

Grellner blamed the confusion on social media users who "willfully and intentionally put out misinformation."

School requirements

As far as vaccine requirements for schools, there is no action being taken by the board at this meeting. However, the board is expected to receive an update on the progress of a technical advisory group that’s evaluating whether to include a COVID-19 vaccine in the list of vaccines required for schoolchildren.

Currently, children attending schools in the state must be vaccinated against 11 diseases, including measles and whooping cough, but not COVID-19.

The group will make a recommendation at a future hearing, which the board would then vote on. If they do require a COVID-19 vaccine, the board said, there would be exemptions for medical, religious or personal reasons.

"There's nothing imminent as far as a possible recommendation" from the advisory group, Grellner said.

Grellner said there is a limit to how many people can register to watch the meeting on Zoom, but those who can’t get in can follow a live broadcast of it on

Our ruling

A Facebook post shared a flyer warning that Washington’s State Board of Health in a Jan. 12 meeting was going to discuss changes that would allow for the forced quarantines of unvaccinated families and require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school.

The board is discussing rules changes to the state’s administrative Code to bring it in line with a state law (ESHB 1551) that went into effect in June 2020. The changes are related to language about HIV and not at all related to quarantine or isolation policies, nor do they discuss using law enforcement to enforce quarantines.

The board is not taking any action about vaccine requirements for students, but is expected to hear a status update from an advisory group tasked with making a recommendation. Any recommendation or vote would take place at a future hearing.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

PolitiFact phone interview with Keith Grellner, chair of the Washington State Board of Health on Jan. 11, 2022

Washington State Board of Health, "Clarifying Online Misinformation about the Jan. 12 State Board of Health Public Meeting"

Washington State Board of Health, "Communicable and Certain Other Diseases - STD Modernization"

Washington State Board of Health and Department of Health Technical Advisory Group, "Overview: Immunization criteria," Dec. 29, 2021

Washington State Board of Health, "Agenda for Jan. 12, 2022 meeting"

Washington State Board of Health, "Chapter 246-100 WAC, Communicable and Certain Other Diseases," Nov. 10, 2021

Washington Legislature, "Final bill report ESHB 1551"

Washington Legislature, "WSR 21-20-127 proposed rules Department of Health" Oct. 5, 2021

Washington Legislature, "Chapter 246-100 WAC"

KIRO Radio, "‘It looked ominous:’ Dori’s fact-check on upcoming state health board meeting," Jan. 10, 2022

KHQ-NBC, "Misinformation regarding Washington State Board of Health public meeting," Jan. 8, 2022

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More by Jeff Cercone

No, Washington state isn’t considering involuntary COVID-19 quarantines

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