Is Law Working? A Brief Look at the Legal Epidemiology of COVID-19

Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch

Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-23

8 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2020 Last revised: 18 Sep 2020

See all articles by Evan D. Anderson

Evan D. Anderson

Center for Public Health Initiatives, University of Pennsylvania

Scott Burris

Center for Public Health Law Research, Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: July 31, 2020

Abstract

Legal intervention has featured prominently in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In most places in the world, the legal response has consisted of some combination of traditional disease control measures (individualized testing, contact-tracing, distancing), population-based physical distancing (including school and business closures, stay-at-home orders, gathering bans and masking rules), travel strictures (including travel bans, border closures and quarantines), and economic support measures (which are beyond the scope of this Chapter). Researchers have tried to guide that response in real-time by measuring rapidly changing legal interventions and assessing their current and future effects. In a moment when law can have huge beneficial and deleterious effects, this legal epidemiology can fairly be regarded as a crucial element of the overall COVID-19 response. This Chapter tries to identify important take-aways from this evolving evidence base. The epidemiologic record shows that the U.S. is failing to control the virus, but little else is as clear. Understanding how much better or worse things would be with different legal interventions is complicated given that the effects of rules are dependent on settings (e.g., density), timing (e.g., in relation to population transmission rates), and social context (e.g., social norms and political conditions). It is difficult for researchers to untangle the effects of specific legal requirements, let alone to identify some ideal set of least restrictive elements. Nevertheless, previous experience, prevailing theory, and some direct evidence suggest that some early and aggressive distancing interventions have important benefits. Questions of costs, disparities and side effects remain largely unanswered.

Note: This paper was prepared as part of Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.

Keywords: public health, COVID-19, coronavirus, pandemic, legal responses, legal epidemiology

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Evan D. and Burris, Scott C., Is Law Working? A Brief Look at the Legal Epidemiology of COVID-19 (July 31, 2020). Burris, S., de Guia, S., Gable, L., Levin, D.E., Parmet, W.E., Terry, N.P. (Eds.) (2020). Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19. Boston: Public Health Law Watch, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2020-23, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3675795

Evan D. Anderson (Contact Author)

Center for Public Health Initiatives, University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
2159000359 (Phone)

Scott C. Burris

Center for Public Health Law Research, Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-6576 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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