State Legal Authority to Investigate the Spread of Communicable Disease
May 5, 2020
Many states grant broad legal authority to local health departments to investigate the causes and spread of communicable diseases. These powers are often contained in the state’s public health code and communicable disease rules. This guidance provide information on which provisions of state law a local health department can cite to compel sharing of information needed for a communicable disease investigation.
Many states grant broad legal authority to local health departments to investigate the causes and spread of communicable diseases. These powers are often contained in the state’s public health code and communicable disease rules.
For example, in Michigan, the state communicable disease rules provide that a local health department “shall promptly be provided with medical, epidemiologic, and other information pertaining to any of the following conditions:
(a) Individuals who have designated conditions or other conditions of public health significance.
(b) Individuals, whether ill or well, who are part of a group in which an unusual occurrence, outbreak, or epidemic has occurred.
(c) Individuals who are not known to have a designated condition but whose medical or epidemiological information is needed for investigation into the cause of the occurrence of the condition.
(d) Individuals who were potentially exposed to a designated condition.
(e) Individuals who may be a carrier or health threat to others under MCL 333.5201.
(f) Any other information that may be relevant to an investigation under this rule.”
Mich. Admin. Code R. 174.
The Michigan Public Health Code provides additional legal authority that a local health officer may reference to support a communicable disease investigation. For example, the Public Health Code states that a local health department shall investigate the causes of diseases and epidemics, Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.2433, and may investigate any “matter, thing, premise, place, person, record, vehicle, incident, or event” to assure compliance with public health laws, Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.2446.
Additional Public Health Code provisions enable a local health department to issue orders and intervene to protect the public’s health. See, e.g., Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 333.2453 (authority applicable to controlling an epidemic), 333.2451 (authority to issue orders in response to an imminent danger to health or lives), 333.2465 (authority to seek an injunction to enforce public health laws or correct conditions adverse to public health).
Health departments in Michigan may wish to review the Network’s Summary of Authority and Actions Regarding Public Health Emergencies: Michigan Public Health Code for additional legal actions and citations.
The Network has developed similar summaries of legal authority pertaining to public health emergencies for Indiana.
Network attorneys are available to answer questions on this and other public health topics at no cost to you, and can assist you in using law to advance your public health initiatives. Contact a Network Attorney in your area for more information. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.