Raising the Yellow Flag: State Variation in Quarantine Laws

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Quarantine is an important but often misused tool of public health. An effective quarantine requires a process that inspires trust in government, only punishes noncompliance, and promotes a culture of social responsibility. Accomplishing successful quarantine requires incentives and enabling factors, payments, job security, and a tiered enforcement plan. In this article, we examine the variation in state-level quarantine laws and assess the effectiveness of these laws and regulations. We find that most states allow for an individual to have a hearing (63%) and to have a voice in burial and cremation procedures (71%), yet are weak on all other individual rights measures. Only 20% of states have provisions to protect employment when an individual is under quarantine, and less than half have plans for safe and humane quarantines. Decision makers at the state and local levels must make a concerted effort to revise and update quarantine laws and regulations. Ideally, these laws and regulations should be harmonized so as to avoid confusion and disruption between states, and public health officials should work with populations to identify and address the factors that will support successful quarantines if they are ever required.

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