PHOENIX — Wondering what Gov. Doug Ducey could do if the coronavirus becomes widespread 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 attacks 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 any sort of virus outbreak.
He even could use law enforcement officers and the National Guard to enforce his orders.
Arizona has had one confirmed case of coronavirus so far, a man associated with Arizona State University. That person was recently released from quarantine after further tests results were negative for the virus, health officials said last week. Pima County health officials said there have been no reported cases of coronavirus in the county. Local officials have assessed nearly 80 people in the county who had recently traveled to China, officials said.
The state law 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 to the state 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 state 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 pose “an immediate and serious threat to the public health.”
There is, however, a requirement for state health officials to seek court approval for the quarantine within 10 days.
And anyone who is quarantined can seek a court order for release, with some deadlines for court action.
A state of emergency also allows the governor to order 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 as well as 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, AIDS, or any other infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.
Ducey is clearly aware of what he told KTAR radio this past week are his “immense authorities” to act in case of some sort of viral outbreak, including the right to quarantine “those who won’t cooperate.”
On Twitter: @azcapmedia
In this Series
Tucson-area coronavirus coverage from January to March: Nearly 1,300 cases in Arizona, stay-at-home order
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