Massachusetts pandemic bill would OK quarantines

| 9/9/2009

A Massachusetts bill would authorize the state to forcefully quarantine people if a health emergency is declared because of a swine flu outbreak.

Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, said the bill is intended to prepare the state for a pandemic flu or state of emergency and to ensure a quick and efficient response.

The Senate unanimously approved the bill in April. It marks the third time in recent years the effort has received backing in the chamber. This year’s effort has moved to the House for further consideration where previous attempts have been unable to gain support.

The bill – S2028 – is designed to protect public health in case of a variety of possible emergencies, including natural disasters, chemical spills, bioterrorist attacks and infectious diseases. The H1N1 virus, or swine flu, is covered under infectious diseases.

Critics say some provisions in the bill infringe on individual rights. Others are concerned that fear about the policy could make people less likely to seek medical attention and as a result more likely to risk their own health and the health of others.

Moore said in a statement there is an expectation “that our government will take steps to protect us and our loved ones from the spread of deadly viruses or the consequences of natural disasters, even if protecting all of us might temporarily limit our individual freedoms.”

Vaccinations are not mandated. Moore said they can only be “strongly suggested” by the Department of Health during a declared, statewide emergency. People who are unwilling to be vaccinated can be isolated or quarantined if it is determined they pose a threat to the general public’s health.

Moore said the provision is needed to protect public safety against irresponsible actions by anyone who has the flu.

During a public health emergency, the bill would allow warrantless searches, if there is probable cause to believe a person has violated a health order. Violators would face up to $1,000 fines and possible jail time.

Moore’s bill – S2028 – is in the House Ways and Means Committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Massachusetts in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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