A measles outbreak is spreading across a Washington county known for choosing not to vaccinate its children, and health officials have declared a public health emergency.
MILWAUKEE — In violation of a health-department measles quarantine, a Brookfield man and his wife were charged after visiting a local health club, according to a criminal complaint.
Jeffery Murawski told a deputy that he hid in his car while his wife drove him to Gold’s Gym in Waukesha — so he would not be spotted by another deputy stationed outside his house to keep him from leaving.
Although the alleged incident took place 10 months ago, Christine Bennett, 58, and Murawski, 57, were charged with one count each of exposing the public to communicable disease, a misdemeanor, on Friday in Waukesha County Circuit Court.
A family member reached out via email to dispute that Murawski had measles. The family member alleged the discussion with health officials was about possible exposure after the Public Health department was unable to confirm that he was vaccinated – which he disclosed, the family member said.
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The Waukesha County Health Department declined to say whether it is normal for someone with measles to be quarantined and whether it is customary for law enforcement to be stationed outside a quarantine’s person’s home.
“The Waukesha County Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Division respectfully declines to answer general information questions at this time,” said Linda Wickstrom, the agency’s public communications coordinator.
A Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department deputy reported on May 1 that another off-duty deputy noticed a man whom he recognized as Murawski, walking on the street.
The deputy knew a Waukesha County Health officer had previously ordered Murawski to be quarantined at his home in order to prevent the spread of measles, according to the criminal complaint.
The quarantine in this instance was the least restrictive form, allowing Murawski’s immediate family living within the home to enter and leave at any time because they had been vaccinated against the virus.
Murawski was ordered to be quarantined in his home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until he was either deemed non-contagious by Health and Human Services or until May 7, the complaint said.
The deputy noticed Murawski from a distance walking into the suite of businesses at 1801 Airport Road, Waukesha, where his wife, Bennett, worked. There he observed Bennett in her car waiting in the parking lot. Murawski walked up to Bennett, greeted her, then entered the car, according to the complaint.
An on-duty deputy pulled over Bennett’s car and asked Murawski, “Aren’t you supposed to be at home?”
Murawski reportedly put his head down said yes and began apologizing profusely.
Murawski said he needed to get out of the house because “he was going crazy” and had been on quarantine at his home on Carpenter Road since April 26, the complaint said.
Murawski was asked whether at any point he had exited the car and stated no despite the fact that an off-duty deputy had observed Murawski walking down Moreland Boulevard carrying a gym bag.
Murawski eventually admitted going inside Gold’s Gym to work out, but said he was there for only a few minutes because he felt guilty and sick to his stomach for deciding to leave his house, the complaint said.
Bennett said she knew Murawski was not supposed to leave and that she had taken away his car keys. She told the deputy she went against her better judgment and later agreed to take him to Gold’s Gym before going to her work.
Murawski said he hid in his wife’s car in order to avoid being seen by the deputies, who were assigned to remain directly outside of Murawski’s home to enforce the order at all times.
The criminal complaint said the off-duty deputy was aware of Murawski’s situation as he was monitoring him as part of the special assignment on both April 29 and 30.
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The maximum penalty Bennett and Murawski could face would be 30 days jail and a $500 fine.
There have been no confirmed cases of measles in Wisconsin in 2018 or to date in 2019. The last time Wisconsin had measles cases was in 2014.That year, there were two cases, according to Elizabeth Goodsitt, communications specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
The disease is caused by the measles virus. Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat. It is followed by a rash that spreads over the body. Measles can lead to ear infections and diarrhea. Serious side effects from measles can occur. Some children may get an infection of the lungs (pneumonia) or swelling of the brain, which can sometimes lead to death, according to a DHS fact sheet.
Goodsitt said that when someone is quarantined, it is not because they have the measles, it is because that person was exposed and does not have proof of immunity. Someone with measles would be isolated from others.
The measles virus can stay in the air for up to two hours after a sick person has been in a room. Infected people can spread measles to others four days before the rash appears through four days after it appears. The best way to avoid getting sick from measles is to get vaccinated, Goodsitt said.
She recommends going to Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR), which allows people to check their immunization records online.
Follow Karen Pilarski on Twitter at @KarenPilarski.
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