This is all largely unprecedented territory for the world. We have rarely–if ever–seen this kind of global response to a disease. That being said, there are instances and policies from history that are being used today to try and address the Coronavirus pandemic.
Quarantine has been standard procedure for the control of disease for hundreds of years, but we have not seen anything like this in the modern era. Perhaps the closest relative to what we are seeing–at least in the US–was the response to yellow fever in the late 1800s. During that outbreak, each state had it’s own containment procedures, but the different methods of control did little to actually stop infections.
After the Civil War, the country was in a state of exponential economic and population growth. What were once rural towns became booming cities. New York was the most prominent example, going from a small population of 45,000 to over 4 million in under 100 years. People, animals and products were moving between states and countries at enormous levels, increasing the risk of infectious disease.
Ships carrying goods and immigrants to and from other countries were a major source of disease. Due largely to a lack of knowledge, local officials would sometimes wait until someone on an incoming ship showed symptoms of being sick before placing them in quarantine, even if they came from an area that had an active outbreak. As people and products from those ships moved about the country, they were unknowingly spreading diseases like yellow fever and cholera. Each individual city would then act on their own to attempt to control the outbreak, although it would never help for long as ships carrying newly infected people continued to arrive at ports across the country.
Because of the yellow fever fiasco, and increasing infections of cholera, all quarantine stations–and procedures–were handed over to the federal government nearly 100 years ago. Today–during the CoVid19 pandemic–we use the word “quarantine” to mean staying at home. That is not the legal definition, however. Instead, quarantine–if enacted–would mean that the federal government has the authority and ability to detain individuals if they are suspected of being sick.
The last time an actual “quarantine” order was put in place was during the out break of Spanish flu in 1918. That kind of quarantine would look like what is happening in San Francisco, where it is a misdemeanor to leave your house for “non-essential” shopping. Similarly, if a national quarantine order was placed, you would not be able to travel between states without verification that you are not sick.
Additionally, if there were ever a conflict between state and federal quarantine procedures, the federal rules would rule supreme.
We have seen several state and local leaders claim that they are putting gathering bans and business restrictions in place because the public won’t do it themselves. We can assume that a national policy will be put in place if people refuse to stop travelling, like they have refused to stop going to bars and restaurants. This is something that at least one governor has mentioned.
Andrew Cuomo of New York became the first governor in the country to initiate a state-wide “quarantine” by shutting down all “non-essential” businesses–effective Sunday.
The rules put in place ban any gathering of any kind for any reason. They also demand that those businesses deemed “essential” ensure that employees and customers keep a, “six foot distance,” from each other. The governor refused to answer questions about what would happen to individuals who gathered for a house party, but did say that businesses that refused the order would face, “A civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that’s not in compliance.”
In his op-ed in the New York Times, Cuomo made the case for a national shut-down by saying, in part,
the closing of schools and businesses has federal implications, even if these are state or local decisions. When one state unilaterally closes businesses, people typically cross state lines to look for open businesses elsewhere. If the purpose is to keep our citizens home and out of crowded spaces, such inconsistency in state policies is counterproductive. There should be a uniform federal standard for when cities and states should shut down commerce and schools, or cancel events.–Governor Andrew Cuomo
Op-Ed, New York Times
It remains to be seen if there actually will be a uniform, nationwide policy regarding Coronavirus, but for now, we all we can do is take it day by day and figure out what it means to have alcohol to-go.
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