Public closures, a ban on gatherings, quarantine notices and orders for isolation have become increasingly common as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States.
Officials in Washington state and San Francisco are limiting the number of people allowed to attend public gatherings. The governor of California joined them on Thursday in urging the cancellation of all events with more than 250 people in attendance.
The governor of Kentucky, a Bible belt state, has asked churches and other religious institutions to temporarily cancel services. But if it seems these actions are infringing on individual freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, think again.
“You don’t have a right to assemble against the backdrop of known public health risk,” James G. Hodge told McClatchy News.
Hodge is the director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University, an affiliate of the Network for Public Health Law. As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs, he said, the types of “aggressive measures” taking place in some parts of the country will be used elsewhere.
As of Thursday, more than a dozen states from California to North Carolina have declared a state of emergency to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Hodge said those declarations help shape how public health officials can respond at the state and local level, enabling them to act fast while instituting forms of social distancing — “which is one of the only tools we have available to us” during a public health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Officials typically have to go through legal processes to close an establishment or shut down public gatherings, Hodge said. But under a state of emergency, everything is expedited.