Legal ramifications of knowingly going into public with COVID-19 infection

Posted at 12:31 PM, Sep 22, 2020

A Massachusetts school district is waiting to see how many students test positive for the novel coronavirus after one student came to school after testing positive for the virus. Almost 30 teens had to go into quarantine. The student in question reportedly got the positive test results on Friday, Sept. 11, and still went to school the following Monday.

Are there legal ramifications to knowingly going out in public spaces while infected with COVID-19?

Mike Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, says there are two types of law that could be at play: criminal law and civil law.

If someone gets infected and you can trace it back to a specific exposure where the person knew they had COVID-19, then that would be a case of reckless endangerment.

"Almost every state has a law like this. On top of that, if you can show that people intentionally did this and it’s certainly conceivable that someone intentionally tried to expose people to the virus-- if you can show that they actually got the virus-- then that would be an assault," explained Lawlor.

But Lawlor says whether criminally prosecuting is a good idea or not is debatable. What is more likely is a civil case in the form of negligence or willful misconduct.

"This does have a cost when you do it, right? There’s an emergency cleaning operation that has to take place. These other students have to be provided for in distance learning. And if anyone were to be able to demonstrate they were exposed and became positive, the health consequences of that could be very significant," said Lawlor.

He says, either way, both the student and the parents run the risk of criminal prosecution.