- Federal isolation and quarantine are authorized for specific communicable diseases, and these powers are derived from the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been delegated the authority to enforce these regulations on a daily basis.
- Changes in these protocols and their implications can affect individuals, public health, and interstate commerce.
The Legacy of Isolation and Quarantine in the United States
Public health has been a long-standing concern in the United States, prompting federal, state, local, and tribal authorities to adopt numerous measures to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Among these preventive measures, isolation and quarantine have been frequently employed tools. This article will explore the complexities of these measures, their origins, enforcement, and potential future in light of the phrase “CDC no more quarantine.”
Legal Framework for Isolation and Quarantine
In the United States, federal isolation and quarantine are authorized by an Executive Order of the President for specific communicable diseases. These diseases include cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever, viral hemorrhagic fevers, severe acute respiratory syndromes, flu that can cause a pandemic, and measles. The President reserves the right to revise this list by Executive Order.
Isolation and quarantine are public health practices used to protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease. Isolation involves separating sick people with a quarantinable communicable disease from those who are not sick. On the other hand, quarantine involves separating and restricting the movement of people exposed to a contagious disease to observe if they become sick.
While these practices serve vital medical functions, they also act as “police power” functions. This term refers to the state’s right to take action affecting individuals for the benefit of society.
Federal and State Authorities: Striking a Balance
Federal isolation and quarantine are authorized by the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the U.S. and between states. The CDC, as a federal body, has been delegated the authority to carry out these functions on a daily basis.
However, the role of the CDC doesn’t undermine the authority of state, local, and tribal authorities, who retain police power functions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of persons within their borders. Therefore, states also have laws to enforce the use of isolation and quarantine to control disease spread within their borders. These laws can vary significantly, can be either specific or broad, and their enforcement may be executed by local health authorities. Violating a quarantine order in most states is considered a criminal misdemeanor.
Tribal health authorities similarly have police power authority to promote the health, safety, and welfare of their tribal members. They may enforce their own isolation and quarantine laws within tribal lands, if such laws exist.
The Roles and Responsibilities of Various Authorities
In the event of a public health threat, multiple authorities may simultaneously exercise their quarantine powers. The federal government acts to prevent the entry of communicable diseases into the United States and takes measures to prevent their spread between states. It may accept state and local assistance in enforcing federal quarantine and may assist these authorities in preventing the spread of communicable diseases. State, local, and tribal authorities enforce isolation and quarantine within their borders.
In case of conflict, federal law reigns supreme, but this doesn’t undermine the coexistence of separate but collaborative legal quarantine powers among federal, state, local, and tribal health authorities.
Enforcement of Isolation and Quarantine Orders
CDC, as part of its federal authority, routinely monitors persons arriving at U.S. land border crossings and passengers and crew arriving at U.S. ports of entry for signs or symptoms of communicable diseases. If a quarantinable disease is suspected or identified, CDC may issue a federal isolation or quarantine order.
In order to enforce these orders, public health authorities at all levels may seek help from law enforcement officers. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Coast Guard officers are also authorized to assist in enforcing federal quarantine orders. Violation of a federal quarantine order can lead to fines and imprisonment.
However, federal law does allow the conditional release of persons from quarantine if they comply with medical monitoring and surveillance. If a federal order is issued by CDC, individuals will be provided with an order for quarantine or isolation, outlining the reasoning, location, duration, and what can be expected while under federal order.
The Shift Towards “CDC No More Quarantine”
Despite the comprehensive legal framework supporting quarantine and isolation, large-scale isolation and quarantine have been rarely enforced in the U.S. The last substantial enforcement occurred during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, with only a few public health events since then prompting federal isolation or quarantine orders.
This historical context brings us to the “CDC no more quarantine” concept. As we have seen, isolation and quarantine are valuable tools in controlling the spread of communicable diseases. Yet, their implementation is not without challenges. These measures can be logistically demanding, disrupt lives and commerce, and raise ethical and legal concerns.
In the light of these complexities, the idea of “CDC no more quarantine” does not signify a complete elimination of these critical public health tools. Instead, it suggests a shift towards more targeted, effective, and less disruptive strategies for managing communicable diseases. It underscores the importance of advanced scientific tools and methods, such as improved disease surveillance, rapid diagnostic tests, effective vaccines, and innovative treatment options.