Students Urge CDC to Modify Proposed Quarantine Regulations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is on the verge of passing important new regulations on quarantine and other public health powers, which would be utilized during the next infectious disease outbreak. But a new Health Affairs commentary written by two Yale Law students identifies dangerous shortcomings of the proposed rules. The article, “Proposed CDC Quarantine Regulations Risk Damaging Public Health,” is authored by Emma Roth YLS ’17 and Kyle Edwards YLS ’18. In the piece, they warn that the CDC regulations may grant the federal government wide discretion to institute quarantines and travel bans without adequate protections for civil liberties, and urge the CDC to revise the rules before President-elect Trump takes office.

The article builds upon a comment submitted jointly to the CDC by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP), Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the International Rescue Committee, the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut, and prominent public health law professors.

“These changes are essential to ensuring that the government does not impose quarantines or travel bans that discourage health care workers from traveling abroad to stop outbreaks of disease at the source,” said Jason Cone, the Executive Director of MSF.

The problems caused by inappropriate quarantines were detailed in a December 2015 report published by the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project and GHJP. The report reveals that the 2014 Ebola outbreak violated individuals’ constitutional rights and led to as much as a 25 percent drop in recruitment of American health care workers.

“Our government must learn from its missteps during the 2014 Ebola crisis, when health care workers and West African immigrants were needlessly quarantined despite never showing symptoms of Ebola,” said Roth. “During future pandemics, quarantine policies must be grounded in scientific evidence, not motivated by fear or politics.”

Roth and Edwards, along other law student interns and supervising attorneys in GHJP and the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale, represent eight of the individuals who were wrongly quarantined in a constitutional challenge to Connecticut’s quarantine policy.

“Members of the Liberian American community in Connecticut still face shame and stigma from the unjustified quarantines, even though no one in our community ever had Ebola,” said Flomo Freeman, President of the Liberian Community Association of Connecticut. “The CDC must revise its proposed regulations to reduce the risk that anyone will ever be subject to unnecessary quarantines again.”

The Global Health Justice Partnership (GHJP) is a program hosted jointly by Yale Law School (YLS) and Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) that tackles contemporary problems at the interface of global health, human rights, and social justice.

Students in the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) represent immigrants, low-wage workers, and their organizations in labor, immigration, criminal justice, civil rights, and other matters.