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What Are the Legal Consequences of Violating a Shelter-in-Place Order, Quarantine, or Curfew?

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - JULY 28: A person walks past a police car on July 28, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
By Kellie Pantekoek, Esq. | Last updated on

Many of the country's busiest cities have become ghost towns lately because of shelter-in-place orders and curfews. Experts say that these tactics have worked in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in places like China and South Korea. But getting Americans to stay inside isn't going to be easy.

If people do violate shelter-in-place orders or curfews, what kind of consequences do they face? This will vary by state and city, but let's look at what, if any, consequences are being imposed around the country.

Shelter-in-Place Orders

As of publication, 27 states have implemented or plan to implement stay-at-home orders, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Many other local governments have issued stay-at-home orders as well, including Philadelphia, St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, and Dallas County, Texas. More than half of the U.S. population will be under orders to stay home by week's end.

California was the first state to order its millions of residents to stay home, and its nonessential businesses like restaurants, bars, and gyms to close. State police are currently not enforcing the order, so residents who choose not to comply won't face consequences other than social shaming at this point, but that could change.

Under California law, violating the public health order is considered a misdemeanor offense, which requires a court appearance and is publishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. Business owners can face fines, business license sanctions, and health code violations.

The Governor of New York has also issued an order requiring nonessential businesses to keep their entire workforce home. Businesses that do not comply could be fined or face other enforcement measures. New Yorkers can still go outside but must practice social distancing, which means staying at least six feet apart in public places.

The commissioner of the New York Police Department said the NYPD would be enforcing the order but that issuing fines and making arrests would be a last resort.

Quarantine Orders

Quarantine and isolation orders are used by local governments to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Typically, they apply to people who are infected by the disease or have come in contact with people who are infected. Every state has laws the permit issuing quarantine or isolation orders, which are usually issued by the state's health agency. The federal government also has quarantine and isolation power through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In most states, violation of such orders is considered a misdemeanor and publishable by fines, jail time, or both. Get the details on each state's quarantine and isolation laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.


Many other state and local governments have issued curfews in effort to slow the novel coronavirus outbreak, including cities and counties in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Curfew laws often require residents to not leave their homes during certain times of the day unless they are traveling to and from work, or in the case of emergency. Violators of curfew orders can face misdemeanor charges, which could result in fines, jail time, or both.

Make sure to follow your local news media or government website to stay up-to-date on public health orders that may be in place, as well as the rules that apply, because they are constantly changing and differ by area.

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