After he tested positive for the coronavirus this month, Jose Freire Interian received strict orders to quarantine at his home in Key West, Fla. With infections exploding across the state, the sick 24-year-old was not to leave his bungalow and risk spreading the virus any further.
But on Wednesday, police showed up to his door, demanding that he and his wife leave their house – in handcuffs.
“I asked them, ‘Why?’ I was in shock,” he told the Associated Press. “Why am I getting arrested for? It was unfair.”
Officials allege that Freire and Yohana Gonzalez, 26, repeatedly ignored the quarantine orders – going to walk their dog, shop for groceries, and get their car washed – and had been caught on tape.
On Thursday, the couple was taken to the Stock Island Detention Center on two second-degree misdemeanor charges: breaking quarantine during a public health emergency and violating emergency management.
Authorities believe Freire and Gonzalez are the first people to be arrested for such an offense in Monroe County, and perhaps all of Florida, since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. But nationwide, they are hardly the only ones whose lax adherence to the rules has landed them in jail.
As the pandemic has spread across the United States, killing more than 148,000 people to date, police have on occasion locked up possible vectors of disease – those who are sick, or irresponsible, or both – to ensure the virus does not spread even further.
Earlier this month, a Kentucky woman and her husband were placed on house arrest after she refused to sign papers agreeing to quarantine herself. A man from New York was detained in South Carolina after he was discovered walking around in a hospital gown, just days after his trip down.
Hawaii, in particular, has taken a relentless approach to arresting people who violate the state’s strict quarantine orders: Travelers from any other state are required to isolate themselves for 14 days upon their arrival, and since the outbreak’s start, more than 180 people have been jailed for failing to do so, health officials said earlier this month.
“If you come to Hawai’i with the expectation that you can ignore the self-quarantine order, you very likely will be reported, arrested and end up in jail facing hefty fines,” Clare Connors, the state’s attorney general, said in a May statement. “All of us must do our part to protect ourselves, our families, friends and guests.”
The Florida Keys were closed to outsiders for two months to contain the pandemic. But as they opened back up to the public in June, infections on the archipelago began to skyrocket.
Freire and Gonzalez were screened for the virus on July 10. Five days later, they received positive test results – along with instructions from doctors to quarantine themselves for two weeks.
Health officials told them to wear face masks at home, too, to protect their three roommates from getting infected. Freire informed his Facebook followers about the diagnosis, urging people who had been in contact with him to get tested, according to the Miami Herald.
But by the following weekend, authorities say they learned that he and Gonzalez had broken quarantine to go to the supermarket. The Florida Department of Health told the couple they were to stay home until July 31 or face the consequences.
“Because you have failed to voluntarily remain in your residence, this order is necessary to protect public health,” the directive said, according to the Herald.
On Wednesday, though, they allegedly repeated their mistake. Freire went outside to walk his dog, shop for groceries and wash his car – without even wearing a face mask, the property manager at their apartment complex told Key West police. And there was video to prove it.
Hours later, a judge signed an arrest warrant, and police knocked at their door.
Adam Linhardt, a spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, told the Herald that Freire and Gonzalez were locked up in “negative pressure” rooms. To protect other inmates, air is in those spaces is not recirculated into the rest of the jail.
They didn’t last long in jail. Both Freire and Gonzalez were released early on Thursday after posting a $1,000 bond – and once they were out, they seemed to question what all the fuss was about.
In an interview with the AP, Freire blamed the whole ordeal on a neighborly spat. While letting his pet relieve herself on Wednesday, he said, someone else in the apartment complex filmed him and sent the video to officials to get back at him.
“I didn’t do anything. I was just walking my dog,” he said. “It’s not as if I left the house to go shopping.”
But local officials weren’t having that excuse.
“It’s a national debate up until the health department tells you to quarantine,” Key West City Manager Greg Veliz told the AP. “If the law allows someone to be arrested for violating a quarantine order and they continue to thumb their nose at the law – yeah, they should be arrested.”
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