Georgia Lawmaker And Wife Of Former HHS Secretary: Can People With HIV Be ‘Legally’ Quarantined?

On Tuesday, Republican Georgia state lawmaker Dr. Betty Price (also the wife of disgraced former Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price) raised eyebrows and ire when she brought up the subject of using “legal” quarantine of HIV patients to curtail the spread of the deadly virus. Representative Price, an anesthesiologist by trade, broached the subject of quarantine at a public committee meeting in a question to Dr. Pascale Wortley. Wortley is a Georgia Department of Public Health employee whose official position is director of the HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Surveillance section of the department.

As CNN reported, the Republican Georgia lawmaker initially appeared hesitant to invoke the subject of quarantine – something that hasn’t been publicly discussed in America since the peak of AIDS hysteria in the early 1980s. However, Price quickly appeared to get over her ethical qualms and dove right into the subject of potential legal methods for quarantining HIV patients to prevent the spread of the virus.

“What are we legally able to do? I don’t want to say the ‘quarantine’ word, but I guess I just said it…. What would you advise, or are there any methods, legally, that we could do that would curtail the spread?”

The Georgia representative went on to describe in detail her reasons for questioning the potential legality of quarantining HIV sufferers, seeming to suggest that recent treatment advances that prolong the lives of HIV patients may have led to a larger population of “carriers” able to spread the disease. According to Price, in the past, HIV sufferers “died more readily,” and once dead were “not posing a risk” of spreading the virus.

“It just seems to me it’s almost frightening the number of people who are living that are potentially carriers — well, they are carriers — but, potential to spread. Whereas, in the past, they died more readily, and then at that point, they are not posing a risk. So, we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they’re not in treatment.”

Dr. Pascale Wortley declined to answer the Georgia lawmaker’s controversial question regarding the potential quarantine of HIV patients, opting rather to discuss what the State of Georgia is doing to identify and track HIV patients in the interest of public health. Currently, the state is dealing the second-highest rate of new HIV infections across the country, and the conversation leading up to Price’s question was a discussion regarding how to stem the flow of new HIV cases in Georgia.

While Dr. Wortley didn’t answer the Georgia lawmaker’s question about HIV and “legal” quarantine, it was heard far and wide and prompted GLAAD to demand an apology from Price. According to Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the advocacy group, Price’s comments were “reprehensible,” particularly because she’s a medical doctor and legislator. What’s more, Ellis said in a written statement that the Georgia representative’s quarantine question is contrary to “basic decency.”

“We have come a long way in how we understand and talk about HIV as a nation, and comments like those made by Georgia State Representative Betty Price fly in the face of that progress, and of basic decency.”

While Betty Price has not come forward with a formal apology for her shocking words regarding the potential legal quarantine of HIV patients in Georgia, New York Daily News reported that the Republican lawmaker has attempted to clarify what she meant. According to a statement, Price claims to have made a “provocative and rhetorical comment” that was “taken completely out of context.” She further added that she does not support the idea of an actual quarantine of HIV patients.

“I do not support a quarantine in this public health challenge and dilemma of undertreated HIV patients.”

Price went on to describe her goal of ensuring that all HIV patients receive and adhere to a proper treatment regimen. Advances in HIV treatment have drastically improved the quality and quantity of life for people infected with the HIV virus, and recent studies indicate that proper treatment of HIV can both add up to a decade to a patient’s life and virtually eliminate the possibility of spreading the deadly virus.

“I do, however, wish to light a fire under all of us with responsibility in the public health arena — a fire that will result in resolve and commitment to ensure that all of our fellow citizens with HIV will receive, and adhere to, a treatment regimen that will enhance their quality of life and protect the health of the public.”

Unfortunately, according to CDC estimates, 1 out of 7 people infected with HIV don’t know that they are carrying the virus, and therefore aren’t receiving treatment. Without treatment, HIV patients have the potential of infecting their sexual partners, further spreading the virus and exacerbating the HIV crisis. In 2014, the CDC estimated that 1.1 million people in the U.S. alone are infected with the HIV virus.

[Featured Image by Andrew Harnik/AP Images]