By Dr. Mercola
The federal government’s legal authority to detain and quarantine persons infected with certain highly communicable and deadly infectious diseases historically primarily has involved detaining people entering the U.S. by boats and airplanes or traveling across state lines.
Federal government officials have long had the authority to apprehend, isolate and quarantine people for a limited number of infectious diseases on the U.S. quarantine list.
However, the legal authority for surveillance, detention and quarantining of citizens residing in the U.S. suspected of being infected with certain non-quarantinable communicable diseases historically has resided with state government health officials.1
On January 17, 2017, the last day of the Obama administration, a new final rule on the Control of Communicable Diseases was issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that is schedule to take effect in March.
The new rule gives the CDC expanded authority to apprehend, isolate and quarantine for at least 72 hours a person entering the U.S. or traveling between states, who is suspected of being infected, or at risk of being infected, with one of the nine diseases on the U.S. quarantine list (cholera, plague, diphtheria, smallpox, yellow fever, infectious tuberculosis, viral hemorrhagic fevers [like Ebola], severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] and influenza) that can cause a pandemic.2
The rule also strengthens federal surveillance of travelers for symptoms of non-quarantinable diseases like measles, pertussis and meningococcal disease.3
While proponents are touting the changes as necessary to protect the public health, critics have been arguing since the CDC first published the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in August 2016, that it is an example of government overreach, which poses a risk to health and civil liberties.4
Because the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) and other organizations advocating for protection of civil liberties urged Americans to contact the CDC and oppose the NPRM last summer, the CDC received more than 15,000 comments from the public, many of them expressing concern that the rule violated the U.S. Constitution, and human and civil rights.
Although the CDC rejected this characterization, the agency did make changes to the final rule, including eliminating a provision that would have allowed the CDC to require individuals to agree to submit to public health measures such as hospitalization, vaccination and medical treatment.
In addition, the final rule states that medical examinations can only be conducted with prior informed consent.5
Who Could Be Quarantined Under the New Rule?
The new rule gives the CDC the power to detain for further health assessment a person who is crossing the U.S. or state borders if he or she is exhibiting certain infection symptoms associated with quarantinable diseases, such as fever, headache and acute gastroenteritis (abdominal cramps, loose stools or vomiting).
The new rule also makes it clear that rash and cough symptoms of non-quarantinable infectious diseases, such as measles and pertussis, among travelers are going to be more closely monitored by federal government officials as well.
For non-quarantinable diseases, CDC will be working with state health departments, who have the legal authority to detain and quarantine citizens suspected of being infected with, or at risk for, being infected with a communicable disease.
James Hodge Jr., a professor of public health law and ethics at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, told NPR, “Because of the breadth and scope of the definition of ill persons, CDC can target a much wider swath of persons to assess and screen.”6
Airline Pilots and Ship Operators to Become Surveillance Crews?
The new rule also includes new reporting requirements for airplanes and ships. If the rules take effect, airline pilots and ship operators would be required to report not only deaths on board but also “certain overt and common signs and symptoms of sick travelers” to the CDC prior to arriving into the U.S. Barbara Loe Fisher, NVIC co-founder and president noted:7
“It is not a good idea to make the public’s airport experience even more difficult by enlisting flight crews to report passengers with symptoms that could be nothing more than eczema, acne, norovirus or the common cold.
…. What started out as a vacation could be turned into a nightmare spent in an airport quarantine center.”