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Woman who refused tuberculosis treatment is in custody months after an arrest warrant was issued

The woman, identified in court documents as V.N., was detained and booked into a “negative pressure” room at the Pierce County, Washington, Jail, an official said.

A Washington state woman who repeatedly refused a judge’s orders to isolate or take medication for tuberculosis was arrested Thursday, more than three months after a rare civil arrest warrant was issued, officials said.

The woman, identified in court documents as V.N., was detained and booked into a “negative pressure” room at the Pierce County Jail, a spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said. 

The room is specially equipped for isolation, testing and treatment, the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department said in a statement.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington.Google Maps

The sheriff’s spokesman, Darren Moss Jr., said V.N. will not face criminal charges but has been ordered to remain at the jail for at least 45 days.

“Depending on her treatment she could leave early or stay later,” he said in an email.

Moss did not respond to questions about when the woman was taken into custody or where she was found.

“We are hopeful she will choose to get the life-saving treatment she needs to treat her tuberculosis,” the health department said in a statement that thanked sheriff’s deputies “who supported public health with this necessary intervention.”

V.N.’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorensen first ordered V.N.’s involuntary detention on Jan. 19, 2022, finding that health officials had made “reasonable efforts” to obtain voluntary compliance with public health rules for tuberculosis, a communicable disease that is deadly and contagious and can spread through the air when people who have it cough or sneeze.

By February, public health officials said they had gone to Sorensen 16 times and asked him to enforce his detention order with a contempt warrant, a move the department called "a last resort." On Feb. 24, Sorensen signed the warrant.

A corrections official said in a declaration filed with the court that authorities began surveilling V.N. in March to execute the warrant "in a safe manner."

A deputy following V.N. watched her leave her home and board a city bus and go to a local casino, the official said. The deputy did not take her into custody; authorities have declined to say why.

On May 19, after V.N. failed to appear at a court hearing, Sorensen again found her in contempt and said the warrant remained in effect.

Nearly 100,000 cases of tuberculosis were recorded annually in the U.S. in the early 1950s. By 2021, the number had declined to 7,882, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pierce County gets roughly 20 active cases of the disease annually, according to the county Health Department.

CORRECTION (June 1, 2023, 11:55 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of the judge in the case. He is Philip Sorensen, not Sorenson.