Presidential Powers and Response to COVID-19

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CDC modeling suggests that, without mitigation, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), could infect more than 60 percent of the United States population. President Trump has declared a national emergency coupled with 49 governors declaring state emergencies (Figure 1), unprecedented actions. Social distancing aims to flatten the epidemic curve to moderate demand on the health system. Consequently, whether through voluntary action or state mandates, individuals are increasingly sheltering at home, schools and universities are closing, businesses are altering operations, and mass gatherings are being cancelled. Some countries have resorted to more aggressive measures, including a cordon sanitaire (a guarded area where individuals may not enter or leave) or large-scale quarantines. What powers do the President and governors possess in the United States? How should we balance individual rights and public health at a critical point in safeguarding the nation’s health?

Publication Citation

Lawrence O. Gostin, James G. Hodge & Lindsay F. Wiley, Presidential Powers and Response to Combat COVID-19, JAMA, Mar. 18, 2020, at E1.