On August 15, 2016, CDC shared for initial public comment newly proposed regulations to clarify its powers pursuant to the Public Health Service Act (PHSA). These regulatory powers, reserved largely for public health exigencies, explain CDC’s authority to assess, apprehend, quarantine, test, examine, isolate, and monitor ill individuals with potentially infectious conditions arriving or traveling in the U.S.
CDC is attempting to strengthen its national public health powers amidst expanding infectious disease threats, particularly among foreign and interstate travelers, within a federalist structure traditionally dominated by state, territorial, tribal, and local public health efforts. Modernizing federal social distancing powers may be beneficial especially for health providers (and their legal counsels) responsible for screening and treating suspect patients. Yet CDC’s draft regulations raise numerous legal and policy concerns that could limit their utility.
This article examines the need for revamped federal powers in a globalized society rife with disease risks as a backdrop to CDC’s proposed regulations in response. Public health support for CDC’s role is explored coextensively with potential constitutional and other legal pitfalls that may derail execution of the regulations absent final changes.