States and counties are given wide berth to regulate and protect public health under their general “police powers.” Although the spread of Ebola is fairly new, local governments since the times of America’s founders have had to deal with outbreaks of deadly diseases and how to legally contain them. Sometimes this mandated draining swamps or cesspools (thought to be the genesis of diseases), but it also included the power to quarantine infected individuals.
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Though these quarantine measures are not derived from criminal authorities, Duncan’s family may face criminal charges if they try to break quarantine. The Texas Department of State Health Services stated on Thursday that if a person does not follow a “control measure,” including quarantine, then that person can potentially face criminal charges.