What will the state do if I am exposed to a dangerous contagious disease?

If people in a certain area were potentially exposed to a dangerous contagious disease, this is what would happen:

State and local health authorities would let people know that they may have been exposed and would direct them to get medical attention, undergo diagnostic tests and stay at home, limiting their contact with people who have not been exposed to the disease. Only rarely would federal, state or local health authorities issue an order for quarantine and isolation.

However, both quarantine and isolation may be compelled on a mandatory basis through legal authority as well as conducted on a voluntary basis.

States have the authority to declare and enforce quarantine and isolation within their borders. This authority varies widely, depending on state laws. It derives from the authority of state governments granted by the US Constitution to enact laws and promote regulations to safeguard the health and welfare of people within state borders.

Further, at the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may detain, medically examine or conditionally release persons suspected of having certain contagious diseases. This authority applies to individuals arriving from foreign countries, including Canada and Mexico, on airplanes, trains, automobiles, boats or by foot. It also applies to individuals traveling from one state to another or in the event of inadequate local control.

The CDC regularly uses its authority to monitor passengers arriving in the United States for contagious diseases. In modern times, most quarantine measures have been imposed on a small scale, typically involving small numbers of travelers (airline or cruise ship passengers) who have curable diseases, such as infectious tuberculosis or cholera. No instances of large-scale quarantine have occurred in the US since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1919.

Based on years of experience working with state and local partners, the CDC anticipates that the need to use its federal authority to involuntarily quarantine a person would occur only in rare situations—for example, if a person posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.