• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Authority for Ebola quarantine ‘is as American as apple pie’

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State law in Texas gives health officials “truly staggering” powers to quarantine people who could spread Ebola or other dangerous, contagious diseases, according to an expert with the University of Houston Law Center. And Texas is not alone.

According to CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, “involuntary commitment and quarantine is perfectly legal in every American state. Quarantine is as American as apple pie.” Quarantine is permitted under both U.S. and state laws, he writes for CNN.

In Texas, loved ones who came into contact Dallas Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan will be quarantined until Oct. 19, when the incubation period for them to get the disease expires. They were first quarantined in their apartment and then moved to a larger home in Dallas where the children can play outside, NBC News reported.

Seth Chandler, director of the Health Law and Policy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center, spoke with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog about quarantine powers in Texas. Laws in Texas give state officials “truly staggering” powers to control the outbreak of communicable disease, he said.

Texas law allows officials to take measures “that are reasonable and necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of the disease in this state.” Health officials didn’t need a judge’s permission to give Duncan’s girlfriend and other family members a quarantine order, though they could request a hearing and contest the order in court. But if they violate an existing order, they could be charged with a third-degree felony, according to NPR.

Texas law also allows officials to order the destruction of contaminated property belonging to people who are quarantined, and to charge the cost to them. On the federal level, laws authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to detain and examine persons arriving in the United States and traveling between states to determine whether a quarantine is warranted, CNN says.

Health law professor Wendy Mariner of Boston University’s School of Public Health tells NPR that quarantine was used in the 1980s and 1990s to isolate TB patients and in the 1920s to isolate people with sexually transmitted diseases before antibiotics were available to treat them.

More than a hundred years ago, Mariner says, the courts struck down a large quarantine order in San Francisco because it isolated healthy persons with people sick with the plague, and it applied mostly to people of Chinese ancestry. “Isolation is a useful tool in extreme circumstances, but it has an unhappy history of being applied rather selectively,” she said.

Quarantines were also used to control the influenza pandemic in 1917 and 1918, and to prevent the spread of yellow fever in 1872, CNN says.