A Washington State Board of Health (SBOH) meeting faced a number of complications before it even started. Ahead of the Jan. 12, 2022, gathering, online rumors spread claiming that the state was considering interning unvaccinated people in the state.
Snopes readers sent us a number of posts, including this one by Law Enforcement Today, a media outlet that claims to be “run for and by law enforcement.” The post alleges that, “Washington State is looking to amend a state law which would allow the state to involuntarily detain state residents as young as 5-years-old in what amount to COVID-19 internment camps for failure to comply with the state’s vaccine mandates.”
These rumors are false. The SBOH and the Washington State Senate’s Republican Caucus have both released statements debunking the claims since.
The rumors grew when the SBOH published its meeting agenda, which said it would discuss the state code WAC 246-100-040. The item details “Procedures for isolation or quarantine.” The board was actually planning to discuss changes to stigmatizing language regarding HIV and AIDS, but many online honed in on the following language in the legislation:
…a local health officer may invoke the powers of police officers, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and employees of any political subdivisions within the jurisdiction of the health department to enforce immediately orders given to effectuate the purposes of this section in accordance with the provisions of RCW 43.20.050(4) and 70.05.120.
As per Law Enforcement Today, “Under the “emergency detention order,” it legalizes the isolation and detainment of American citizens who fail to voluntarily comply with COVID gene therapy shots “for a period not to exceed ten days.”
According to NBC, this policy has been on the books since 2003, and the SBOH was not meeting to discuss it. SBOH Chairman Keith Grellner debunked the rumor, stating at the meeting, "The board is not considering isolation or quarantine camps for people that test positive for COVID or unvaccinated people. That is a false rumor and we will not be discussing that today."
The SBOH also released a statement clarifying the misinformation:
The Board is not voting to change isolation or quarantine policies at its meeting on Jan. 12. The Board is continuing a November 2021 rules hearing on the proposed rule changes to chapter 246-100 WAC, Communicable and Certain Other Diseases, as published in WSR 21-20-127 at the meeting. The Board is proposing updating its rules to reflect current state law to align with Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 1551. Agenda item 9, while related to rulemaking on chapter 246-100 WAC, is scoped only to the implementation of ESHB 1551 (Chapter 76, Laws of 2020) and does not include changes to isolation and quarantine policies nor does it suggest law enforcement be used to enforce any vaccination requirements.
Washington State Senate’s Republican Caucus released a document with background on the controversial section of the law that resulted in the rumors:
Among the 26 WAC sections in Chapter 246-100, there are seven which relate to a local health officer’s authority in his/her jurisdiction to make someone isolate or quarantine to control the spread of a communicable disease. Washington is not exceptional in this regard as all 50 states have these laws on the books either in statute or, as is the case in our state, in code or both.
In 2020, HB 1551 passed to destigmatize and modernize the HIV/AIDS language in statute in Washington. Since that bill passed into law, the SBOH has been reviewing the HIV/AIDS code sections, which are also housed in WAC 246-100, and has been holding regular public discussions at each SBOH meeting to either propose language revisions or act on the duties prescribed in HB 1551. These efforts have been routine at SBOH meetings since 2020 and will continue into the future.
The caucus added that, “Because a slot for WAC 246-100 appears on every SBOH meeting agenda, some people are saying that the SBOH is going to vote on rounding up unvaccinated people to take away their individual liberties and put them in state-run COVID internment camps.” This, they continued, is untrue.
“No such vote to consider the internment of unvaccinated individuals will occur, nor is it even being considered. No one will be interred,” they wrote.
A second claim argued that the SBOH was voting to require a COVID-19 vaccine for all school children at the meeting. The SBOH also debunked this claim, stating that it was not going to vote on such a proposal, but was going to receive an update from a technical advisory group convened to address this very issue:
The Board will receive a briefing on the progress of the technical advisory group (TAG), which is convened to consider COVID-19 for inclusion in chapter 246-105 WAC, at next week’s meeting (agenda item 8). The Board will not take action on this agenda item at the meeting. The purpose of the TAG is to evaluate a vaccine against the established criteria to develop and provide a recommendation. The recommendation is then presented to the Board at a future regularly scheduled meeting for consideration. The Board, at their discretion, may or may not approve the TAG’s recommendation. The exemption allowances currently listed in the state’s immunizations law would be available for families and their children who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. These exemptions include medical, religious, philosophical or personal exemptions.
At the board meeting the SBOH actually discussed removing repetitive language around HIV and AIDS, writing clearer definitions, and addressed how it would remove stigmatizing language around the disease.
Given that the rumor has been debunked by various bodies at the center of the claims, we rate it as “False.”
Clarifying Online Misinformation about the Jan. 12 State Board of Health Public Meeting. https://sboh.wa.gov/News/Articles/ID/3050/Clarifying-Online-Misinformation-about-the-Jan-12-State-Board-of-Health-Public-Meeting. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.
Patrick, Jim. “Is Washington State Looking to Detain Residents in 2022 Version of Internment Camps? Sure Looks That Way.” Law Enforcement Today, 10 Jan. 2022, https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/is-washington-state-looking-to-detain-residents-in-2022-version-of-internment-camps-sure-looks-that-way/. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.
Perez, Jessica. “WA Board of Health Did Not Enact Covid Internment Camps or Vaccine Mandate for Students at Wednesday Meeting.” NBC Right Now, 12 Jan. 2022. https://www.nbcrightnow.com/news/wa-board-of-health-did-not-enact-covid-internment-camps-or-vaccine-mandate-for-students/article_b986f0ec-740c-11ec-8bf4-dff54e0fb521.html. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.
The Truth: No Internment of Unvaccinated Individuals. Washington State Senate Republican Caucas, Jan. 2022, https://src.wastateleg.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Addressing-SBOH-internment-rumors.pdf. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.
“Washington Board of Health Says They Will Not Enact Mandatory Covid-19 Quarantine during Wednesday Meeting.” NBC Right Now, 10 Jan. 2022. https://www.nbcrightnow.com/news/washington-board-of-health-says-they-will-not-enact-mandatory-covid-19-quarantine-during-wednesday/article_7fdeebca-727b-11ec-a1ad-8760e3f062f5.html. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.