Plague and quarantine: An old (and ongoing) practice

July 24, 2014
by Janet Golden
Philadelphia Inquirer

Countries around the world still rely on quarantine and isolation to stop the spread of certain infectious diseases. As historian David Barnes noted in a recent post, the U.S. has 20 quarantine stations across the county, including one in Terminal A of the Philadelphia International Airport.” Federal authority for operating these stations – and for imposing quarantine and isolation – derives from the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

A 2007 report by the Trust for America’s Health reported that a majority of those polled stood ready to abide by a voluntary quarantine (in that case for a flu pandemic). Like the citizens of medieval Venice, modern Americans seem to understand that halting contagious diseases requires collective action as well as the care of afflicted individuals.


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