GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids man who tested positive for COVID-19 walked out of the health department’s isolation center on Division Avenue Wednesday against medical advice.
Kent County public health leaders told News 8 the man, who is homeless, is likely capable of transmitting the virus for six more days.
He was not arrested.
“We have a legal right to have him arrested and put in jail,” said Joann Hoganson, director of the Community Wellness Division at the Kent County Health Department. “(But) we really don’t want to put him in our Holding and Isolation Center (HIC) against his will. That’s really not the role nurses want to play. We’re not set up for that…We would really find it very difficult to put someone in jail for having a virus.”
Hoganson also noted the risk to other inmates.
“It would be really bad for the jail if we were to put someone there when we know they have COVID-19.”
Hoganson did not identify the man to News 8 due to medical privacy laws, though the county has notified other shelters as well as Grand Rapids police.
“We alert the other missions, so they don’t let him into their agency. We also alert the watch commander at GRPD so if any officers, EMTs or firefighters were to approach him, (they know to protect themselves).”
While a Kent County judge signed an order allowing authorities to arrest COVID-19 victims who refused to quarantine, a health department official told News 8 the standing order has since expired.
At this point, if public health leaders wanted to arrest someone, they would have to obtain an order in each individual case.
The man who left the isolation center Wednesday is one of 72 people experiencing homelessness who have spent time at the Holding and Isolation Center in the 200 block of South Division Avenue.
Of those 72 individuals, 59 tested positive for COVID-19 and 13 tested negative.
Most of the guests came to the isolation facility from hospital emergency rooms.
Six of the positive individuals at the center had to be returned to the hospital because they became significantly ill or felt worse.
Thirteen completed their isolation term and are no longer considered contagious.
Hoganson said, in order to be cleared for release, those who test positive at the isolation center must be seven days post onset of symptoms, and 72 hours without fever or other symptoms.
As of Thursday morning, 35 individuals remained at the center.
The man who refused to remain was only there for a few hours Wednesday before taking off.
“He walked in the door saying he didn’t want to stay,” said Hoganson, who explained that some of the guests struggle with substance abuse as well as restrictive social settings. “They don’t want to be in a crowded place. They are reclusive. We give them a private room and use incentives to try to get them to stay.”
Those incentives include three meals a day, a roof over their head in inclement weather and nurses who treat them with respect and kindness.
Hoganson said public health leaders would rather focus on the dozens of people they’ve convinced to stay in isolation, rather than the one person who refused to do so.
“The fact that we have 33 people in isolation, and one of them on the street, is a huge success, and we’re rather celebrate that.”
Early on, the Kent County Health Department identified the homeless community as high risk for contracting and transmitting COVID-19.
“They live very close together, they share a lot of space, and they often have underlying health problems, including substance abuse and chronic illnesses,” said Hoganson.