Mass Movement, Business and Property Control Measures
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
7 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020 Last revised: 20 Oct 2020
Date Written: July 31, 2020
Government powers support the use of physical distancing measures as a strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This Chapter examines the efforts of governments to limit mass movement and large gatherings, close businesses and schools, and restrict non-essential personal, recreational, and commercial activities. Government legal authority to impose these restrictions to stop the transmission of an infectious disease such as COVID-19 is quite broad, and these measures are essential tools to reduce the community spread of COVID-19. However, government orders that restrict movement or activity must consider the effects on constitutional rights; the economic, social, and health impacts that restrictions impose; and the potential for inequitable burdens on marginalized communities if supportive policies are not implemented along with restrictions. Movement and activity restrictions in the form of stay-at-home orders, gathering size limitations, and business and school closures have been instituted widely during the initial COVID-19 response, primarily by state governments, although local governments have also imposed these measures as well. Often politically controversial, numerous legal challenges have been brought against government orders restricting movement, imposing gathering limits, and closing businesses. The government has prevailed in most of these legal challenges, and this deference to government-imposed restrictions demonstrates an appropriate balancing of public health and other considerations under circumstances of scientific uncertainty. However, government officials must take affirmative steps to set up systems that render widespread restrictions on movement and activity less necessary to contain COVID-19 and to ensure that when restrictions and closures are in place that supportive policies mitigate disparate burdens on marginalized communities.
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, movement restrictions
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