Ebola in America: Government Can Lock Us Up for Weeks at a Time

Thomas Duncan, a 42-year-old Liberian citizen, is in serious condition with Ebola in a Dallas hospital. His partner Louise is confined to the Dallas apartment where Duncan became very sick from the virus. Texas health officials have placed her, one of her children, and two nephews in their 20s, under quarantine. This means they have been ordered, under threat of prosecution, by the county not to leave their home or have any contact with outsiders for 21 days. Any exception requires the approval of the local or Texas state health department.

Have government officials done what they need to do to prepare us for the reality of quarantine in a time of Ebola? No. But if there is a deadly communicable disease, they can lock us up for weeks at a time. Personal freedom and liberty are foundational American values. But in the face of a threat of death, liberty can and should be, as we are watching in Dallas, limited so that you can't move around freely and infect others.

The federal government derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Under the Public Health Service Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the CDC are authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of deadly communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states. Ebola surely meets that description. So quarantine at an airport or the harbor is legal, and we should be ready to see it used. Continue>>>