Briefcase: Public Health Emergencies

An interview with Research Professor Allison Winnike.


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Whether is it the spread of Zika virus or an anthrax outbreak, public health emergencies raise numerous legal concerns. Research Professor Allison Winnike with the University of Houston Law Center explains who has control during a public health emergency.

"States have primary responsibility for protecting the public's health, including ordering a quarantine," Professor Winnike said. "This comes from the 10th Amendment of the Constitution which gives states the authority to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the people. And this power can be delegated down to local authorities to make decisions responding to local health needs."

Winnike also notes there are several circumstances when a group or individual can be quarantined.

"Quarantine applies to healthy people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease. A person can be quarantined if a health official reasonably believes that they may have been exposed. This is in contrast to the term "isolation" which refers to separating a person that is confirmed to be infected with a disease."