In terms of both quarantine and isolation, especially with the recent onset of the coronavirus outbreak occurring in various parts of the world, it’s important to make note of the many different legal authorities for both of these issues.
Here are the basic definitions for both:
*Isolation is defined as separating those who are sick with a quarantinable communicable disease from those who are not sick.
*Quarantine is defined as separating and restricting the overall movement of individuals who were exposed to any contagious disease in order to determine if they become sick.
Both of these situations are also considered to be “police power” functions as well, meaning that a state has the legal right to take appropriate action affecting those individuals for the benefit of society if the need arises.
In terms of federal law, the federal government obtains its legal authority regarding both isolation and quarantine thanks in large part to the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Furthermore, under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services has the legal authorization to take the appropriate measures to prevent both the entry and spread of any and all communicable diseases from foreign countries (i.e. coronavirus) into the United States, as well as between states in the country.
The Centers for Disease Control also plays a role in this as well, as the overall authority for carrying out these vital functions on a daily basis has been delegated to this specific department. Additionally, under 42 Code of Federal Regulations parts 70 and 71, the CDC has the legal authorization to detail, medically examine, and release individuals coming into the United States, as well as traveling between states, who they suspect of carrying a communicable disease. Additionally, the department also routinely monitors individuals arriving at border crossings across the country, as well as at ports of entry for any symptoms or signs of communicable diseases.
In terms of states, each one has police power functions in order to help protect the health, welfare, and safety of those who live within the borders of the state itself. They have their own sets of laws in order to enforce the use of both isolation and quarantine in order to control the spread of disease. These are laws that vary depending on the state, and they can also be broad or specific. Tribes also have their own police power authority to take action to protect their tribal members and can enforce their own laws regarding isolation and quarantine.
In terms of federal quarantine, this is an action that is very rarely used. A large-scale isolation and quarantine of this magnitude, in fact, was last used during the Spanish Flu pandemic, which took place back in 1918-1919. Recent history shows that only a select few public health event have called for federal quarantine or isolation orders to be implemented. As of late, however, there has been no call and no reason for an order of this magnitude to be used or implemented.
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