Sunday, March 15, 2020

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kansascity |  Kansas and Missouri hold sweeping, authoritarian-like powers to separate from their friends, families and communities anyone who has coronavirus or has been exposed to it.
Health officials can order you to stay in your home or keep you in a secluded location. Neighborhoods and even entire cities can be locked down. You can be prosecuted for non-compliance.

Neither state has invoked these broad powers so far. But measures that just a few weeks ago seemed to be the stuff of dystopian novels and movies are becoming reality in the United States and around the world. 

New York state has established a “containment zone” around the New York City suburb of New Rochelle. Italy, a country of 60 million people, has been brought to a standstill.

As COVID-19 spreads around the United States, Kansas and Missouri officials are implementing increasingly tough restrictions. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has barred gatherings of more than 1,000 and Friday Sedgwick County banned groups of more than 250. Governors of Kansas and Missouri have declared states of emergency, giving them expanded legal and budgetary authority.
All of it raises the possibility that as the virus spreads as experts project — potentially infecting millions and killing thousands nationally — authorities will resort to even more aggressive measures available under seldom invoked laws. These include steps that will challenge fundamental American notions of personal freedom and civil liberty.

“The public health emergency powers are astonishingly broad,” said Wendy Parmet, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, who specializes in public health law.

“The word I tend to use is they’re awesome, in that more primeval sense of the word.”

Because quarantine and isolation is so rarely used, modern courts have had relatively few chances to assess whether these laws strike the right balance between public protection and civil liberties.

“We are deep into uncharted territory. We’re not at the edge of it,” said Parmet.

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