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9/11-era law gives governor extensive authority in virus outbreak

Passengers wearing masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 use their phones at the Sao Paulo International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Passengers wearing masks as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 use their phones at the Sao Paulo International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. A law passed in 2002 to address bioterrorism threats gives Gov. Doug Ducey broad authority in the case of an outbreak of the virus in Arizona.  (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Wondering what Gov. Doug Ducey could do if coronavirus should begin to spread in Arizona?

Turns out, quite a lot, courtesy of some post 9/11 fears.

A state law passed in the months following the 2001 terrorist attack allows the state’s chief executive officer to order medical examinations and even isolate and quarantine people — all without court approval — if he decides to declare an emergency due to the any sort of virus outbreak.

And he even could use police and the National Guard to enforce his orders.

The law was a direct response to the Sept. 11 attacks. It was designed to provide a comprehensive plan of what happens in case of a biological terrorist attack, beefing up existing law that give the governor powers in emergencies.

The wording, however, is much broader. It includes any illness, health condition or syndrome caused not only by bioterrorism but also any “epidemic or pandemic disease.”

It starts with an enhanced surveillance advisory.

That triggers mandatory reporting by doctors and veterinarians of illness. But it even requires pharmacists to notify state officials if there is an “unusual increase” in prescriptions for antibiotics or even in over-the-counter drugs that might be purchased by someone with an illness.

Then there is tracking. That includes allowing the health department to access confidential patient records and to interview anyone.

And if the governor declares a state of emergency, state and local health officials have the power to quarantine anyone who has contracted the disease or who has been exposed.

The law does require the agencies to use the “least restrictive means” to sequester people to protect the public and prevent the spread of the disease. And it spells out that those who are quarantined, whether in their own homes or elsewhere, are to be provided adequate food, clothing, medical care “and a means of communicating with those in and outside these settings.”

But it does allow quarantine without a court order if health officials determine any delay would post “an immediate and serious threat to the public health.”

There is, however, a requirement to seek court approval within 10 days. And anyone who is quarantined can seek a court order, with some deadlines for court action.

A state of emergency also allows the governor to order to mandate medical examinations for anyone who has been exposed and ration medicine and vaccines. And, in the case of highly contagious and highly fatal diseases, the governor can mandate treatment or vaccination of those who are diagnosed with the illness “or who are reasonably believed to have been exposed or who may reasonably be expected to be exposed.”

And the law requires law enforcement and the National Guard to enforce both these requirements for treatment and vaccination and any orders for quarantine.

The statute does have a notable exception: It does not permit any form of quarantine or medical treatment for those with acquired immune deficiency syndrome or any other infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.

Ducey is clearly aware of what he told KTAR this past week are his “immense authorities” to act in

Not everyone serving in the 2002 Legislature thought the broad changes in law were a good idea.
House Majority Whip Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, one of only 10 lawmakers to vote against HB 2044, said the governor – Jane Hull at the time – already has broad emergency powers.
“If she needs more, no one from the governor’s office came down and told me,” he said.

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