(January 7, 2021)—A Mechanicsville married couple with four children claim despite their willingness to quarantine for a month or longer until their family was clear of COVID-19, the St. Mary's County Health Department, in conjunction with the sheriff's office, used "scare tactics" against them to enforce their isolation at their home last month.
Nathaniel and Jessica Wickham took their story to the Internet via a podcast they produce on their Youtube channel detailing what they say were invasive questions asked of them by contact tracers working for the health department.
On their podcast, the Wickhams said they believed heavy-handed tactics were used against them—including being served quarantine orders late at night at their home by a deputy sheriff.
Four copies of those orders were issued to their four sons, they said, who range in age from six years to 10 months old.
This sudden and unexpected issuance of orders frightened them and their children, the Wickhams said, even though they had already agreed to stay quarantined for as long as a month, or longer, if need be.
The orders, the Wickhams said, did not list a date when they could be released from quarantine; Nathaniel Wickham, who is assistant pastor at Living Word Community Church in Mechanicsville, said the health department granted them leave from quarantine on Jan. 5.
This was after a call from the health department, Nathanial said, in which they were simply asked how they were doing and if they had any symptoms, to which they said the symptoms had abated.
Despite their release, the family is still in shock as to their alleged treatment, Nathanial said.
"They basically served us quarantine orders; they didn't like that we wouldn't answer some of their questions."
Nathanial said he wouldn't give his wife's cell phone number to the contact tracer, nor would he divulge his place of employment.
He said they were told by the health department they were also being given quarantine orders because they would not isolate from their children, which the Wickham's said they could not do because of their young ages.
Nathanial said when the deputy issued the papers to his family he was sick in bed with the virus; his wife and four children were at the door to receive them.
His wife and children had cold-like symptoms but were never tested, he said.
"This makes no sense," Nathanial said. "We're still trying to figure this out."
Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron said he had long ago decided to volunteer his deputies to send out such orders instead of leaving that to health department workers.
"A police officer is readily identifiable," whereas a health department worker might not be, Cameron said.
Cameron said that not all people who go into quarantine, likely a majority of them, do not receive orders to do so.
Cameron was exposed to someone with COVID-19 last year and self-quarantined.
"I quarantined and I didn't receive an order," Cameron said.
He said he has received criticism that his deputies are enforcing orders some consider to be unconstitutional, but he disagreed.
"We serve them [quarantine orders], we don't enforce them," Cameron said, noting that a court would have to issue an arrest warrant for someone breaking quarantine orders.
"We haven't charged anybody, we haven't done that," Cameron said. "A court could issue a warrant but that hasn't happened."
Dr. Meena Brewster, county health officer, signed the quarantine orders herself.
She told The County Times that, without speaking directly to the Wickham's case, that the county health department does not issue quarantine orders as retaliation, rather they are the only way they can communicate with a person who may have come into contact with an infected person, if the person in close contact will not provide them with the information the department needs.
"When we can't speak directly to people… we move ahead with the quarantine orders," Brewster said. "We don't issue orders if they talk to us."
In their podcast, Nathanial said he told contact tracers that they could speak to him in lieu of him giving them his wife's contact information.
Brewster said, in those kinds of circumstances, they could not inform a possible exposure subject through another party, even a family member, unless they were a minor.
"We cannot rely on someone speaking for another person, unless that person is a minor," Brewster said. "We have to follow confidentiality laws; we have to have some way of communicating with that person."
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