New Proposed CDC Rule Signals a Shift Toward Transparency

August 16th, 2016 by Trudy Henson

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On August 15th, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a Notice for Proposed Rulemaking to revise current domestic and foreign federal quarantine regulations. The new provisions are the result of recent domestic and foreign disease outbreaks, including the Ebola Virus, Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, and repeated outbreaks of measles. According to its explanation, the proposed provisions will “enhance HHS/CDC’s ability to prevent the further importation and spread of communicable diseases into the United States and interstate by clarifying and providing greater transparency regarding its response capabilities and practices.”
A large part of the clarification comes from definitions elaborating on existing statutory powers. For example, the Proposed Rule defines or revises definitions for the “apprehension” of individuals for control of disease—including a time range for how long that “apprehension” may last; clarifying what a “communicable period” is for communicable diseases; and defining what “non-invasive” screening procedures can include.

Most importantly, the revisions define “public health emergency” for the existing key section, which discusses quarantine and isolation powers in a “public health emergency.” Part of that definition would include “any communicable disease event as determined by the CDC Director with either documented or significant potential for regional, national, or international communicable disease spread or that is highly likely to cause death or serious illness if not properly controlled; or any communicable disease event described in a declaration by the Secretary.” The definition also includes communicable diseases recognized by the World Health Organization as a threat to public health.

Finally, the Proposed Rule clarifies the process for issuance of quarantine and isolation orders, including an addition that will allow the CDC to issue quarantine/isolation orders for a group of individuals, such as “all individuals onboard a particular interstate flight—” although the CDC states such orders will likely be “exceedingly rare.” The Proposed Rule also states that any Federally-issued quarantine will be reassessed no longer than 72 hours after issued.

The Proposed Rule will be open for comments until October; however, the move demonstrates that public health officials and lawmakers are re-assessing existing quarantine and isolation policies and procedures. Regardless of the outcome, the focus on and discussion of these issues is an important step in ensuring public health safety.

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