by Marco Cáceres
With its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register on Aug. 15, 2016,1 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has moved to dramatically expand the power of the U.S. government over the lives of the American people. This may be the clearest example to date of an agency gone amok.
In a recent commentary on the NPRM, Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), observed:
Today, the American people are challenged, as they have never been before, to confront the expansion of government authority over our bodies and the bodies of our children, specifically the exercise of police power to take us into custody and isolate us without our consent whenever public health officials believe we are sick or could become sick.2
The CDC, with its NPRM, is seeking to “restrict the freedom of a person entering the U.S. or traveling between states if they believe the person is infected or could become infected with certain kinds of communicable diseases.”2
Would this new authority open the way for the U.S. government health officials to eventually restrict travel via automobile, bus and train from state to state? Could state public health authorities eventually prevent me from walking across the street or riding my bicycle from one town to the next if I were found to have a cold or the flu? Where exactly would this new authority to control communicable diseases stop?
The NPRM calls for airline and cruise ship personnel to increase surveillance of travelers into the U.S. and those traveling between states, but states have the greatest authority under the Constitution to use police powers to control infectious diseases within state borders. The CDC also provides substantial funding to states to maintain high uptake of all federally recommended vaccines. So, as Fisher points out, the NPRM indicates the CDC plans to enlist the “participation of federally funded state health departments”2 —which means that state policing authorities could eventually be doing a lot more detaining, isolating and quarantining of people in the U.S., who appear “unwell” but are otherwise simply going about minding their own business.
So, how would all of this work in real life in the event I had a rash or coughing fit while running into a federal or state public health official in the supermarket or at the gym? Were the NPRM to be implemented, it is certainly possible that we could, indeed, be “vulnerable to detention and quarantine if health officials decide you are, or could become, a transmitter of measles or other infections.”2