Georgia state representative Dr. Betty Price asked during a public hearing Tuesday, Oct. 17, whether quarantining HIV patients to stop the spread of the virus has any legal grounds.
Price said she didn't want to say the word but immediately relented.
"I guess I just said it."
"What would you advise, or are there any methods, legally, that we could do that would curtail the spread?" Price asked Dr. Pascale Wortley, the director for Georgia Department of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Surveillance Section. Both were part of a study committee meeting on barriers to adequate health care, a video of which is available online.
Price is a former anesthesiologist and married to former federal Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price, who resigned last month from President Donald Trump's cabinet after coming under fire following hundreds of thousands of bills in chartered flights.
A Republican whose district includes some of Atlanta's northern suburbs, she has served on various boards of medical associations in Atlanta and Georgia.
Georgia Lawmaker Draws Ire After HIV Comments
The lawmaker has drawn criticism for raising the quarantine question, with some recalling that it was similar to language used in an earlier era when AIDS was much less understood than it is today, as Chicago Tribune reports.
Since "public" dollars are heavily expended in treating infected HIV patients, she argued, there must also be a public interest in preventing its spread. Therefore, she asks:
"Are there any methods, legally, that we could do that would curtail the spread?"
Wortley didn't answer Price's question directly but instead explained various efforts to treat the condition, including helping newly diagnosed patients, connecting those infected to proper care, and determining those who aren't getting treatment.
Price said that it seems almost frightening to her the amount of people living today who are classified as carriers, or in other words, those who can spread the disease. She compared the current HIV condition with the past, saying that previously, infected ones "died more readily and then at that point they are not posing a risk."
Over a million people are living with HIV in the United States as of 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"So, we've got a huge population posing a risk if they're not in treatment," said Price.
Advocacy Groups Furious Over HIV Quarantine Comment
The question of quarantining people living with HIV or AIDS has been a heated subject since the apex of the AIDS epidemic in the '80s. At the time, about half of respondents said in a poll that AIDS should be a disease that requires infected patients to get quarantined.
Price's comments have caused some controversy and anger among advocacy groups, with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, demanding an apology Friday, Oct. 20, saying comments like Price's "fly in the face of that progress [of talking about HIV], and of basic decency." The organization found it "reprehensible" that a lawmaker and physician made such comments.
Reese McCranie, a member of the Human Rights Campaign's steering committee, was among many who responded negatively to Price's comments.
"I find her comments repugnant and a total disgrace," said McCranie. "They reveal her ignorance around HIV, its transmission, its treatment and the strategies to combat it."
Betty Price Responds To HIV Quarantine Uproar
The lawmaker has now responded to the controversy via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying she doesn't favor a quarantine situation for people infected with HIV or AIDS.
"I made a provocative and rhetorical comment as part of a free-flowing conversation which has been taken completely out of context," said Price.