Tailoring Public Health Policies

American Journal of Law & Medicine (forthcoming 2021)

U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 21-06

45 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2021

See all articles by Govind Persad

Govind Persad

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: April 7, 2021


In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, many states and countries have adopted public health restrictions on activities previously considered commonplace: crossing state borders, eating indoors, and gathering together. These policies often focus on specific activities or groups, rather than imposing the same limits across the board. In this Article, I consider the law and ethics of these policies, which I call tailored policies.

In Part I, I identify two types of tailored policies: activity-based and group-based. Activity-based restrictions respond to differences in the risks and benefits of specific activities, such as walking outdoors and dining indoors. Group-based restrictions consider differences between groups with respect to risk and benefit: examples are policies that treat children or senior citizens differently, policies that require travelers to quarantine when traveling to a new destination, and policies that treat individuals differently based on whether they have COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, have previous COVID-19 infection, or have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Part II, I consider the public health law grounding of tailored policies in the principles of “least restrictive means” and “well-targeting.” I also examine how courts have analyzed tailored policies that have been challenged on fundamental rights or equal protection grounds. I argue that fundamental rights analyses typically favor tailored policies, and that equal protection does not preclude the use of tailored policies even when imperfectly crafted.

In Part III, I consider three critiques of tailored policies, centering on the claims that they produce inequity, cause harm, or unacceptably limit liberty. I argue that we must evaluate restrictions comparatively: the question is not whether tailored policies are perfectly equitable, perfectly prevent harm, or completely protect liberty, but whether they are better than untailored ones at realizing these goals in a pandemic. I also argue that evaluation must consider indirect harms and benefits as well as direct and apparent ones.

Suggested Citation

Persad, Govind, Tailoring Public Health Policies (April 7, 2021). American Journal of Law & Medicine (forthcoming 2021), U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 21-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3821983

Govind Persad (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States

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