The coronavirus may not have been labeled a pandemic yet, but the rapid spread of the virus is a good enough reason for court officials to plan for how they would deal with one. Fortunately, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has updated its public health emergency page, which offers many resources for court administrators and judges. The page features Preparing for a Pandemic, a blueprint for developing a plan to combat a pandemic, as well as resources from last year’s SJI-funded National Pandemic Summit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, home to the nation’s largest biocontainment unit.
The information on the page also applies to public health emergencies other than pandemics, which are relatively rare. It applies, for example, to influenza, which has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans per year since 2010. The flu pandemic of 1918, which killed about 675,000 Americans and tens of millions worldwide, caused courts to close in the District of Columbia, Tennessee and Kentucky, among other places, but fortunately public health emergencies rarely lead to court closings.
Despite that, public health emergencies sometimes impact the courts, and court officials need to know how to react to them. Court administrators need to know how to keep their courts operating efficiently when some of their employees are sick and can’t work. And judges must know what to do when they are called upon to order quarantines for individuals infected with contagious diseases. A quarantine order related to a nurse in Maine who was exposed to the Ebola virus in Africa in 2014 made national headlines.
“Preparing for a Pandemic addresses the legal bases for actions the government may take and provides a ready-reference for a judge confronting issues that thankfully are extremely rare as they relate to things like a quarantine,” said William Raftery, senior NCSC Knowledge and Information Services analyst.
If you have questions about this or resources to share, email the NCSC.