Covid-19: What Are Your Legal Rights in a Quarantine?

Published on March 26, 2020

With the number of Covid-19 cases increasing exponentially across the globe, more and more questions are being asked of governments with regards to their response to the outbreak of this deadly disease, including the involuntary quarantine of individuals infected with Covid-19.

A situation like this is unprecedented at least since the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, and governments are trying to adapt quickly to the ever-growing threat of the pandemic. Governments worldwide, including US states, are putting measures in place to try to stem the number of transmissions of Covid-19. To some people, these measures seem unjust or unfair, and to others, it seems like too little, too late.

It is this difference in opinion that creates the uncertainty and panic that we are now seeing swoop across the globe, manifesting in empty supermarket shelves and pharmacies running on low supplies.

One thing that we need to clear up from the start is that desperate times call for desperate measures. The US government has a history of infringing on individual liberties for the greater good of the country. In the past, the government has prioritized the national interest over that of the individual, and it this may be another one of those instances.

But what exactly are the government’s powers in this situation? Can they hold people against their will if they are showing Covid-19 symptoms? What if they have been in contact with someone who is infected? Would this be just and fair?

This inevitably brings up the questions of individuals’ rights and what power the federal government and the states have. Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward. There are many grey areas we must navigate in this unprecedented situation. It remains to be seen how this will play out.

Can the government quarantine me?

If you are looking for a very simple answer, then yes. However, it is not quite as black-and-white as that.

As this is a public health emergency officially categorized as a pandemic, certain measures must be put into place to protect the public from COVID-19 . Each state has laws authorizing the quarantine and isolation of infected people through the state’s health authority.

On top of that, the federal government also has the authority to detain people believed to pose a threat to the public health. The federal government’s powers in this area ares typically restricted to people who enter the country or cross state borders. Cvid-19 is a different matter.

The Constitution does limit the power of the federal government on forcible quarantine, but at the same time, it is the duty of the federal and state governments to protect the citizens by stopping the outbreak of a pandemic or, failing that, to manage it as much as possible by preventing unnecessary transmissions.

The federal government has some limited power to quarantine individuals to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but ultimately, it will come down to how the individual states react to this outbreak. The key decisions over school closures and major public events all lie with state and local officials, which means there will be no unified national pandemic response. There will be many inconsistencies across the country due to the difference in opinion between state officials.

If I am quarantined, what are my rights?

This is a tough one, but it all boils down to where the authority lies. The Constitution divides the power between the federal government and the individual states. However, as we know, individuals rights must also be protected.

If somebody is quarantined to prevent spread of Covid-19, their freedom is being taken away, which is in direct conflict with the Constitution itself, which states that no person can be denied their liberty without due process.

If you find yourself quarantined with Covid-19, then you do not have the right to leave freely. However, you do have the right to demand a process to determine whether or not your quarantine is justified. The government will have no trouble justifying your quarantine if you are showing symptoms of the virus, or if you have tested positive for Covid-19.

The quarantine of individuals infected with Covid-19 is essential to deal with this emergency. You are a public health hazard if you have the virus, and your quarantine is in everyone’s best interests.

How far should we take social distancing advice?

In recent years our society has undergone massive changes that have impacted how we to act to protect ourselves. For example, the internet and the way we now communicate has led us to have to teach our children and others how to stay safe on social media.

Social distancing is a step that governments are taking to stem the spread of the virus. What’s worrisome about Covid-19 is that not everyone who is carrying it has symptoms, and many others show very mild symptoms easily mistaken for cold or flu. This makes it incredibly hard to diagnose unless the person is given a scarce Covid-19 test.

The best way to slow down the rate of transmission is to practice social distancing. This helps to curb the number of simultaneous transmissions, therefore reducing the burden on the healthcare system at any given time.

To practice proper social distancing, you should keep safe distances (approximately 6 feet) from other people and avoid all public gatherings. This means spending a lot more time at home and avoiding bars, restaurants, schools, churches, concert halls, public transportation, and any other large social gathering. Many states and local governments have already ordered “non-essential” businesses closed and banned large gatherings.

These measures, including quarantine of individuals infected with Covid-19, sound extreme but the alternative is much worse. Social distancing is a tactic that we can all implement to help beat this virus and stop it in its tracks.

Douglas Parker handles content management and communications for Manshoory Law Group, APC. He has always had a special interest in the sphere of Law and Human Rights. Dedicating a lot of his free time to understanding the small details and specifics of these fields, Douglas enjoys exploring and analyzing them in his articles. His main goal is to make this sometimes complicated information available and transparent for everyone.

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