ALLEGAN, Mich. (WOOD) — Health officials in Allegan County are once again taking heat when it comes to protocol surrounding kids and coronavirus.
The latest debate has to do with a letter regularly sent to parents whose child has been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19, informing them of the required quarantine protocol.
The controversy comes in the third paragraph of the three-page letter, where it states failure to follow quarantine protocol could put your child at risk for being placed in protective custody.
“If you fail to take the actions prescribed in this warning notice, the Allegan County Health Department may petition the circuit court to seek an order to compel your compliance, which may result in you being taken into protective custody to protect the public’s health (MCL 333.5205),” the letter states.
Parents on social media have taken issue with the language, calling the letter threatening.
News 8 took these concerns directly to the source, talking one-on-one with Allegan County Health Officer Angelique Joynes.
“We had a few calls because people thought the language might be a little like intense,” Joynes said. “But really, that’s not our intent. Our intent is to formally let individuals know that they’re required to quarantine, so that’s part of the letter.”
According to the health department, during the 2020-2021 school year, 3,671 school-age children were quarantined for a known COVID-19 exposure and were sent a quarantine letter. None of which were petitioned or taken into taken into protective custody.
The letter recently began circulating on social media, sparking outrage from many parents across West Michigan.
Michigan State Rep. Steve Johnson posted a photo of the letter on Facebook. He says it was sent to him by one of his constituents, who reached out with concerns after receiving the letter dated Aug. 27.
Johnson says the letter is problematic, calling for the county board to fire Joynes as health officer.
“It’s very threatening and really, one of the biggest threats is the government threatening to take a child away from a parent,” Johnson told News 8. “That’s essentially how the letter started with those threats, (stating) we’re going to do this if you don’t comply.”
Despite the concern and criticism, Joynes has no plans of removing that part of the letter. Though, she is open to adding clarification.
“We’ve sent it to legal counsel and asked if there’s a way that we could make it more clear, so that people can know what our intent is and that it’s not to take away children,” she said.
Joynes also wants to clarify that it’s ultimately up the courts to decide whether a child is taken into protective custody.
“The authority we have is just to petition the court,” she said. “But we don’t actually get to determine whether somebody would be placed in protective custody or not, that’s really for the courts to decide.”
When asked if there’s a situation where she would petition the court to put a child in protective custody for not complying with the order, Joynes was unable to give a definitive answer.
“I’m not going to speak to that,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Allegan County Health Department said the language used in the quarantine letter has been used in situations prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said warning letters have been issued for other infectious diseases like the chickenpox, where the risk of spread is high.
“I can’t speak to what other health departments are doing, but I do believe there are other health departments using similar quarantine letters,” Joynes said.
News 8 reviewed the Kent County Health Department’s order for quarantine and isolation arising out of educational settings, but found no mention of court petitions or protective custody. On Thursday, the Kent County Health Department released a statement on how it alerts people to an exposure and emphasizing that it does not use the same language as Allegan County and that is prefer to “seek cooperation and to provide guidance and support.”
“In the end, the KCHD strongly believes that matters of public health are best addressed when we all work together to promote and protect a healthy community,” the statement continues. “To date, we have received excellent corporation from the individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts. We will continue to work with our residents to help prevent the spread of the virus in our community.”