Md. COVID-19 squad investigates quarantine-breakers — and, yes, they can arrest you

Sgt. Travis Nelson explains Maryland State Police's role (WTOP's Megan Cloherty )

Being safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and complying with restrictions largely comes down to personal responsibility. But, in Maryland, COVID-19-positive individuals who put others at risk can be arrested.

About twice a week, Maryland State Police are asked to investigate whether someone who is COVID-19 positive, or who was exposed to the virus, is disregarding quarantine orders.

Tips usually come in to the state’s COVID-19 prevention line from spouses, co-workers and friends, but can also come from contact tracers who sense a person they are checking in with is bucking the rules.

Recently, officers said they’ve seen an uptick in employees going to work despite being ordered by the health department to stay at home.

“When we become aware of a situation like that through an anonymous tip through our prevention line, we provide that information immediately to the local authorities so they can evaluate the need for that legal order that requires that person to stay home or they could be arrested,” said Sgt. Travis Nelson, Maryland State Police liaison.

Beyond contact tracers and tips, Nelson said a team at the Maryland COVID-19 Compliance Coordination Center is searching Facebook and other websites for potential spreader events.

It’s how a recent planned wedding was investigated before police learned from the reception venue the coronavirus-positive couple had canceled their party.

“A Southern Maryland health officer contacted us and had already issued them isolation orders. We looked at the public wedding webpage and knew the wedding events coordinator,” Nelson said.

In that case, someone went out to the venue to ensure the reception wasn’t taking place.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus, or is in close contact with someone who is positive, is given a set of instructions to quarantine, as well as a state letter excusing them from going to work.

“If, at any point, the health department feels they’re not going to comply with those recommended actions, they’ll issue a legal order,” Nelson said. “From that point, that’s where the state police comes in, because we have the resources and training personnel to potentially take the person into custody if they, in fact, refuse to comply.”

Nelson said troopers aren’t sitting outside people’s homes waiting for them to leave the house if they have been told to quarantine.

“They’re not served for every person [who has COVID-19], or like 1,000 people a day would be getting these orders and it would be a nightmare to track. It’s only when we have enough information to believe that they are not going to do the right thing,” he said.

Someone who is arrested for failure to comply with the state’s disease prevention code could face up to a year in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Citizens can anonymously report an event or person at 1-833-979-2266, or email

“It’s not like they’re going to get in trouble. Just because you call our prevention line doesn’t mean you’re getting your friend arrested,” he added.

But, Nelson said, they will investigate to ensure one person’s actions aren’t risking others’ health.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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