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Official in Lynwood Calls for Enactment of AIDS Quarantine

August 22, 1985|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

LYNWOOD — Reacting to a Los Angeles ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against people infected with AIDS, the City Council here has asked its city attorney to draft a resolution urging a quarantine of all AIDS patients.

Councilman Robert Henning proposed the resolution "asking that all people infected with the deadly virus AIDS be quarantined until this epidemic can be controlled and a cure is found." He asked that the resolution be sent to the county and state Department of Health Services.

Henning said he takes issue with the Los Angeles ordinance because "the public should be alarmed because we don't know enough about the disease."

Reluctance Evident

After more than 15 minutes of discussion and expressing some reluctance, the council unanimously agreed that such a resolution should be drawn up and sent off.

But there were some questions.

"Where are we going to put these people?" asked Mayor John Byork.

"Where they put them is not my concern. They'll find places. It is not fair to the public to be subjected to the silliness. I don't want them cooking my food or have them bumping into me," said Henning.

A quarantine, Henning said, is necessary "to protect the innocent. They (AIDS patients) should not be allowed in populated places."

Dr. Shirley Fannin, associate director of communicable disease control for Los Angeles County, who helped draft the Los Angeles ordinance that angered Henning, said the call for a quarantine is "blatant emotionalism."

"Quarantine makes no sense. It is discrimination," Fannin said. "This is a serious disease. But it is serious to risk groups. We don't have any cases of people contacting AIDS because they touched a doorknob."

Death of Child

"We've had a young child with AIDS die after 3 1/2 years. There was contact between the mother, father and a sibling through certain things as diaper changing and exchanging of saliva and there's no evidence that the family contacted AIDS," Fannin said.

The disease, she said, is spread through intimate contact: sexual activity or through an exchange of blood or blood products.

Albert Ogle, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Hollywood, agreed with Fannin that the idea of a quarantine is "linked to a myth that you can contact AIDS in a casual way--say swimming, for an example."

"If people know the facts, they won't panic," said Ogle. The center, which is supported partially by county and state grants of more than $1 million, provides several social services, including counseling and a diagnostic clinic for suspected AIDS victims.

In an interview, Henning bitterly criticized the Los Angeles anti-discrimination ordinance, saying the law "was hastily drawn" by politicians who want to remain popular with the gay community.

'Politicians Scared'

"I respect the Los Angeles Council but I think they overstepped the boundary. I think politicians (there) are scared that homosexuals will come over and picket them (and) make them lose an election," Henning said.

Los Angeles Councilman Joel Wachs, who sponsored the anti-bias ordinance, said the law "was not hastily drawn. It was done with an urgency for people who are dying and facing discrimination."

The law was well-researched and prepared with the "benefit of health and legal experts," said Wachs.

The Los Angeles ordinance--believed to be the nation's first--was unanimously passed Aug. 14 by the Los Angeles City Council. Mayor Tom Bradley signed the measure into law Aug. 16. It prohibits employers, landlords, businesses and medical facilities from discriminating against people suffering from acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Threat of Lawsuits

Schools are also prohibited from barring AIDS victims or their siblings. The law subjects businesses and government agencies to possible lawsuits by the city attorney's office if they discriminate against people with AIDS.

Dentists' and doctors' offices, hospitals, hospices and nursing homes are included in the ordinance. However, owner-occupied housing or such medical facilities as blood and sperm banks are exempted.

The law does allow employers to fire or discipline people with AIDS under certain circumstances, such as when a food worker has open sores that could be a public health danger.

Wachs pushed for the ordinance after several public hearings at which there was testimony of people losing their jobs and being evicted from their apartments because they were suspected AIDS victims, said Mark Siegel, a deputy to Wachs.

On Tuesday, five days after the measure became law, Wachs said public reaction was running about 2 to 1 in favor of the law, according to phone messages and letters to his office. This was in contrast to immediate public reaction, which was running about 3 or 4 to 1 against the law, Wachs said.

Fannin said there have been 1,060 cases of AIDS in the county since 1978 and through last month and that 52% of those have ended in death; about 95% of the disease has occurred in homosexual males, 2% in intravenous drug users, presumably using contaminated needles, while the rest of the victims have included hemophiliacs and heterosexuals who have contacted the disease through sex partners or contaminated blood.

More than 12,000 cases have been reported nationwide. Only New York City, with 4,045 victims, and San Francisco, with 1,383, have more cases than Los Angeles.

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