NEW YORK – In 2010, the Obama administration quietly dumped Bush-era plans to enact quarantine regulations supported by the Centers for Disease Control that were designed to prevent travelers from spreading infectious diseases.
Travelers would have been required to submit detailed personal information before boarding a flight or ship.
As first reported by USA Today April 1, 2010, the quarantine rules had been touted in 2006 by the CDC as “critical to protecting Americans from dangerous diseases spread by travelers.”
The CDC reported Tuesday the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. The patient, a Liberian national, had traveled to Dallas from Liberia Sept. 20 via Brussels, Belgium.
The regulations were proposed by the Bush administration in 2005 during the height of avian and swine flu fears. The rules would have required airlines to report to federal authorities any ill passengers. They mandated that airlines collect information on international passengers – including email addresses, traveling companions and return flight details – to make it easier to trace passengers in any investigation of a disease outbreak.
USA Today reported the Air Transport Association of America decried the proposal as imposing “unprecedented” regulations on airlines at costs they couldn’t afford. The American Civil Liberties Union objected to potential privacy rights violations and the proposal’s “provisional quarantine” rule that would have allowed the CDC “to detain people involuntarily for three business days if the agency believed they had certain diseases: pandemic flu, infectious tuberculosis, plague, cholera, SARS, smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria or viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.”
Josh Gerstein, writing in Politico on April 2, 2010, reported the CDC had forwarded the Bush-era rules, which were never fully implemented, for formal approval to the Office of Budget Management in June 2009.
“It’s important to public health to move forward with the regulations,” CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson told Gerstein in the summer of 2008. “We need to update our quarantine regulations, and this final rule is an important step.”
Gerstein further reported that after the CDC dusted off and advanced the proposal in June 2009, the travel industry resumed opposition, arguing the new policies would increase costs on airlines and cruise lines.
Gerstein previously quoted Christopher Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union, who sharply criticizing the Bush-era proposal as heavy-handed.
“It doesn’t surprise me that when swine flu or any other epidemic is featured prominently in the news, we see a return to quarantine and other public health regulations,” Calabrese said.
“The enemy here isn’t the American people or sick people,” he said. “It’s an illness. … Police officers with guns cannot make people obey a quarantine. In order for this to work, it has to be collaborative. They have to trust the government.”