Coronavirus: Mississippi threatens jail time, fines for COVID-19 patients who defy isolation order

Mississippi’s top health official on Friday issued an order threatening fines or jail time to residents who test positive for COVID-19 and fail to follow isolation guidelines.

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Mississippi residents, regardless of vaccination status, are required to self-isolate for 10 days immediately after learning of infection, the state health department said on Friday. Defying the order could result in up to five years in prison and fines of $500 to $5,000, WHBQ reported.

“The failure to refuse the lawful order of a health officer is, at a minimum, a misdemeanor,” the health department said in the order. “If a life-threatening disease is involved, failure to obey the lawful order of a health officer is a felony.”

Patients do not need a negative test after their isolation period. However, they must be fever-free for 24 hours and show improvement of other symptoms.

The agency also said schools must allow students and staff who test positive to isolate themselves away from campus.

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The Mississippi Department of Health is issuing the orders in response to surging caseloads and the second-lowest vaccination rate in the country. Statewide, there have been 413,498 total confirmed cases and 8,047 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the state health department.

On Monday, the health department reported 7,249 more confirmed cases and 56 deaths.

In Mississippi, about 37% of the population is vaccinated, far lower than the national rate of 51%, according to the health department.