Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) in the Senate chamber in 2021. Brian Chilson

State Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) kicked off an internet firestorm this week when she challenged quarantine guidelines that aim to squelch COVID-19 spread but cause logistical nightmares for working parents.

“There are NO laws and NO mandates forcing quarantines,” Davis said on Facebook. “Everything ADH puts out is simply a recommendation. It doesn’t matter if you are a daycare, school, business, individual-YOU ARE NOT MANDATED TO DO ANYTHING,” Davis wrote.

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A mother of young children, Davis said she and many of her friends and constituents have missed work to stay home with healthy children. So she dug into this question of what parents, schools and daycares are actually required to do when teachers, staff or children get exposed to an active case. (Today’s report from Gov. Asa Hutchinson cites over 100,000 active cases in the state.) The answer, she said, is nothing.

“It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t even about trying to encourage people not to follow the recommendations put out, even though I do have opinions on that,” Davis said by phone Friday, after her post started making the rounds on Arkansas social media. “It was just to empower parents and day care providers with the truth of what is allowed. Often when you empower people with truth, they make good decisions for themselves.”

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Davis said she was mostly focused on child care facilities, where guidelines are far stricter since young children are still not eligible for the vaccines that free people ages 5 and up from quarantine recommendations after exposure. The latest guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health call for children 4 and under who are exposed to COVID-19 to hunker down for ten days. The current guidelines for daycares don’t address the “test to stay” option some schools and workplaces use to clear people exposed to the virus so they don’t have to quarantine at home.

The latest guidelines, put out by the Arkansas Department of Health Jan. 12, say young children exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for ten days.

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The Russellville state senator said she expected pushback, and she’s certainly getting it.

 

Her post started blowing up in Arkansas internet circles on the same day the Arkansas Department of Health reported active COVID-19 infections in our public schools more than doubled this week. Districts across the state logged 9,923 cases when students and staff returned to class Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. As of today, Friday, Jan. 21, Arkansas public schools report 20,668 active cases among students and staff, according to statistics maintained by the Arkansas Department of Health.

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Tom Mars, an Arkansas attorney instrumental in preserving school boards’ ability to require masks in classrooms, said schools and day cares should think twice before throwing state health department guidelines out the window. While COVID-19 guidelines are not legally enforceable, failure to follow them can cause legal problems.

“It’s my opinion that the failure to follow ADH guidelines would subject those day care owners to liability for damages based on common law negligence and possibly liability for punitive damages,” he said. Mars acknowledged that parents would carry the burden of proof to show that their child became sick because of the day care’s negligence, but said that’s certainly possible to do.

“After all, people have been recovering actual and punitive damages for years in tobacco and asbestos cases when the defendants made the same assertion about the lack of proof regarding causation,” he said.