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Emergency Legal Preparedness and Response

During disease outbreaks or natural disasters, jurisdictions may take divergent legal approaches in their responses to national or regional public health threats. Legal authorities vary across states, tribal governments and localities during declared emergencies. Conflicting laws and overlapping jurisdictions further complicate key decisions on when or how to respond.

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A Closer Look at Emergency Legal Preparedness and Response

Public health officials may face many critical legal and policy decisions during public health emergencies, including:

  • Inter-jurisdictional legal coordination of federal, tribal, state and local actors in real-time emergencies under changing legal norms
  • The ability to issue isolation or quarantine orders, or other social distancing methods, to control public health threats
  • Whether to close or dismiss schools, or other public assemblies, temporarily or for prolonged periods to prevent the spread of communicable diseases
  • The authority to mandate vaccinations for minors or autonomous adults, including health care workers
  • Licensing, credentialing and privileging out-of-state health practitioners
  • Inter-jurisdictional management of scarce resources including personnel, vaccines, shelter and sustenance
  • Omnipresent concerns over liability of public health practitioners during emergencies

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