Power to Quarantine Those Exposed to Ebola

dallas texas ebola quarantineEbola is in Dallas. Well, one case of the virus is here. The first one in the United States. The speed and effectiveness of the response have been placed under the microscope. The media was quick to report that some of the people who may have been exposed to the virus did not voluntarily quarantine themselves. According to this article, Texas’s State Health Commissioner signed an order legally compelling “four close family members of the Ebola patient in Dallas to stay in their home.” Can he do that? What are the consequences if the order isn’t obeyed?

Yes, the commissioner can do that. The Texas Health and Safety Code contains the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Act. The Act empowers the appropriate health authority to adopt and implement control measures including detention, restriction, quarantine, and preventive therapy over individuals, animals, places, or objects, as appropriate. The Act also puts into place a process whereby an order from the judicial branch may be obtained in certain circumstances. The idea, of course, is to prevent the spread of disease and protect the public health.

Failure to comply with the commissioner’s order may constitute a felony, punishable by jail time and/or a fine.

My undergraduate degree is in microbiology. I worked as a microbiologist before law school. The Ebola virus is a serious matter. But with a swift and effective response, education, and reasonable safety measures, it shouldn’t be the end of the world. Still, I hope this lamentable event evokes some positive response to counter this disease and help those who may suffer from it and their loved ones. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we work together.

In our In the News series, we use an article or topic that has been featured recently in the news as a potential learning opportunity.

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