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US Emergency Legal Responses to Novel CoronavirusBalancing Public Health and Civil Liberties

Educational Objective
To understand the scope of health officials authority in the US response to the COVID-19 epidemic
1 Credit CME

With increasing numbers of cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) globally and in the United States, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared a national public health emergency on January 31.1 The emergency declaration of the HHS authorizes additional resources, enhanced federal powers, interjurisdictional coordination, and waivers of specific regulations. State and local public health emergency declarations are also likely. During crises, government has a special responsibility to thoughtfully balance public health protections and civil liberties.

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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Ave NW, McDonough 568, Washington, DC 20001 (gostin@law.georgetown.edu).

Published Online: February 13, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.2025

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

References
1.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Determination that a public health emergency exists. Published January 31, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2020. https://www.phe.gov/emergency/news/healthactions/phe/Pages/2019-nCoV.aspx
2.
del Rio  C, Malani  PN.  2019 Novel coronavirus—important information for clinicians  [published February 5, 2020].  JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.1490Google Scholar
3.
Hanfling  D, Altevogt  BM, Gostin  LO.  A framework for catastrophic disaster response.  JAMA. 2012;308(7):675-676. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.8171PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
4.
White House. Proclamation on suspension of entry as immigrants and nonimmigrants of persons who pose a risk of transmitting 2019 novel coronavirus. Published January 31, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2020. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspension-entry-immigrants-nonimmigrants-persons-pose-risk-transmitting-2019-novel-coronavirus/
5.
US Department of State. China travel advisory. Published February 2, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2020. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/ traveladvisories/traveladvisories/china-travel-advisory.html
6.
Seck  HH. 4 More military bases tapped to house coronavirus evacuees. Published February 1, 2020. Accessed February 3, 2020. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/02/01/4-more-military-bases-tapped-house-coronavirus-evacuees.html
7.
Public Health Services Act, 42 USC §6A (2016).
8.
Gostin  LO, Hodge  JG  Jr.  Reforming federal public health powers: responding to national and global threats.  JAMA. 2017;317(12):1211-1212. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.1021PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref
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