Last week, we discussed trip cancellations because of fear of the spread of the coronavirus. Today, let’s discuss when the law can force a person into isolation or quarantine because of a contagious or infectious disease.
A panoply of federal, state and local laws apply to protect the public from such risk. Among them are two tactics long used to contain contagious illnesses — isolation and quarantine. Under the Federal Center of Disease Control and Prevention, isolation applies to persons known to be ill with the contagion.
Quarantine is for those who have been exposed to a contagious disease but are not necessarily ill. A contagious disease is defined as “very communicable,” which means it’s capable of rapidly spreading by close contact or proximity between people.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has broad statutory power to seek quarantine and isolation. Such power is also given by statute to county boards of health and to municipalities.
Persons not consenting to being isolated or quarantined at the request of the IDPH or a local government may be ordered to do so without prior consent or court order if, in the reasonable judgment of the IDPH or certified local health department, immediate action is required to protect the public. The same standard applies for closing public accommodations.
As soon as practical within 48 hours of the order, a petition must be filed in court requesting a court order. The person against whom such isolation or quarantine is sought has a right to hearing and court-appointed counsel. The IDPH or certified local health department must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the public’s health is significantly endangered by the person who is reasonably believed to have been exposed to the dangerous disease.
For ordering closure of a place, it must be shown that the public is significantly endangered if the place remains open to the public and all other reasonable means of correcting the problem have been exhausted with no less restrictive alternative.
Any order cannot exceed 30 days. Additional 30-day extensions can be requested.
One’s private medical records used in the case are sealed by the court so the public can’t pry with inquiring eyes.
Persons refusing to comply with such orders can be prosecuted under criminal law with the penalty of hefty fines and up to a year in jail.
The Illinois record of contests against quarantine or isolation is sparse — one in Chicago and another in Champaign, both of which dealt with tuberculosis. The Illinois Supreme Court has upheld such laws against constitutional challenges.
From typhus to tuberculosis, from cholera to coronavirus, governments have long faced the threat of communicable disease. Worldwide more people died in the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic than perished in the four murderous years of the First World War.
The war on viruses is a neverending arms race between the mutating, adapting anatomy of a virus and the counter-mutating, counter-adapting resistance of its human hosts. Quarantine and/or isolation delays the spread and thereby buys time for humanity’s immunity to build and for possible anti-viral drugs to be developed.
That is the science of evolution as expressed in public policy.