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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Chief Judge: Courts Ready To Hear Quarantine Order Cases For Those Refusing To Isolate

McLean County Law and Justice Center
Ralph Weisheit
The McLean County Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit’s chief judge says he and his colleagues are ready to hear requests for orders that would force COVID-positive people to quarantine if they’re not willing to do so voluntarily.

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit, which includes McLean County, has had a few close calls where authorities nearly sought a formal quarantine order on a noncompliant person. Such an order could be used to force someone who’s tested positive to quarantine if they refuse to do so voluntarily. That’s different from mask rules and other legal questions around business-related enforcement.

Mark Fellheimer
Eleventh Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer.

In one such case in the spring, a person who knew they were COVID-positive continued to go out shopping without a mask, claiming they had to buy dog food to keep their pet alive, said Eleventh Circuit Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer. Ultimately, the person isolated only after the county health department used the person’s money to do the shopping for them, making an order unnecessary, he said.

“No one wants to go to court on something like that. It’s a last resort,” Fellheimer said.

The circuit’s judges were advised last week to be prepared to hear new quarantine order requests should they become necessary, Fellheimer said.

“That could involve entities involved with Illinois State (University). It could be students. It could be fraternal organizations. There’s a whole host of things that we’re prepared for,” Fellheimer said.

During a McLean County Board Health Committee meeting last week, McLean County Assistant State’s Attorney Chris Spanos said there have “issues with some … Greek houses” on college campuses.

“There may be a couple houses that may be necessary to put an order on them, to do something with them,” Spanos said. “We’re in the process of looking at exactly what might be called for.”

In a subsequent interview Tuesday with WGLT, Spanos said “right now, according to the health department, fraternity and sorority houses at ISU have been complying with the department’s recommendations on isolation and quarantine.”

“At this time, the health department is not contemplating any additional action,” Spanos said.

ISU spokesperson Eric Jome said Tuesday the Dean of Students Office has been in regular contact with fraternal organizations, but that no COVID-related discipline or intervention has been necessary.

Ban on evictions

Judges and court staff also are expecting an increase in eviction cases later this year.

The COVID recession has hit low-wage workers especially hard, and many of them are renters. The state has kept evictions at bay with an eviction moratorium that has been repeatedly extended.

The state moratorium has an exception, allowing landlords to seek eviction if a renter poses a health or safety issue to other tenants, Fellheimer said.

“The concern was that (landlords) would get crafty and make those allegations, but really it was a rent issue and they were gonna cloud it with other things,” he said. “But I’ve only had two total since the middle of March. One was a person who was potentially involved in drug sales in the housing authority. Another one dealt with a physical altercation. And I review those to see if they could even come up to the plate to proceed.”

Last week, the Trump administration ordered a halt on evictions nationwide through December for people who have lost work during the pandemic and don’t have other good housing options.

The Eleventh Judicial Circuit was still digesting that news last week. 

“We’re preparing for an onslaught of cases” whenever evictions are allowed to proceed, Fellheimer said.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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