Rep. Kelly Calls on President Obama to Enact Bush-era Proposal to Update Nation’s Quarantine Rules

Proposed updates to protect nation from disease scrapped by Obama administration in 2010 after protest by ACLU

Rep. Kelly: “An effective war on Ebola cannot be waged or won with policies from three decades ago”

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) issued the following statement today, in light of the ongoing Ebola crisis, calling on President Obama to finalize a rule proposed under the Bush administration in 2005 (Vol. 70, No. 229, 71892) to update and revise regulations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to “prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States from one State or possession into another.” According to the federal register, the code of federal regulations that deals with foreign arrivals has not been updated since 1985. According to the summary of the 2005 rule proposal, “Having updated regulations in place is an important measure to ensure swift response to public health threats.”

Statement by Rep. Kelly:

“It is both frustrating and shocking that there has not been a significant update to our nation’s quarantine laws in nearly 30 years. In that time, there has been a dramatic increase in international travel as well an increased likelihood in the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases into America. Even though the world has changed, we’re still relying on rules written when the Berlin Wall was still standing. This is totally unacceptable. Just as an army cannot succeed with outdated weapons, an effective war on Ebola cannot be waged or won with policies from three decades ago. I call on President Obama and his administration to get over its concerns for political correctness and finally enact the 2005 proposed updates for the sake of the health and security of all Americans. It’s time to put America first.”

USA Today, 4/1/2010: “The Obama administration has quietly scrapped plans to enact sweeping new federal quarantine regulations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touted four years ago as critical to protecting Americans from dangerous diseases spread by travelers. … The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] had objected to potential passenger privacy rights violations and the proposal's ‘provisional quarantine’ rule.”

BACKGROUND: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) first proposed these regulatory updates on November 30, 2005, amid fear of the avian flu and as a result of the CDC’s experience during the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus in 2003, when the agency faced difficulties locating and contacting airline passengers who might have been exposed to SARS during their travels. Upon announcing the proposed regulations, then-CDC Director Julie Gerberding stated that “[t]hese updated regulations are necessary to expedite and improve CDC operations by facilitating contact tracing and prompting immediate medical follow up of potentially infected passengers and their contacts.”

The updated regulations would expand reporting requirements for ill passengers onboard flights and ships arriving from foreign countries. They would require airlines and ocean liners to maintain passenger and crew lists with detailed contact information and to submit these lists electronically to CDC upon request. The lists would be used to notify passengers of their suspected exposure if a sick person were not identified until after the travelers had dispersed from an arriving carrier. Additionally, the rule proposal addresses the due process rights of passengers who might be subjected to quarantine after suspected exposure to disease.

NOTE: On October 7, 2014, Rep. Kelly sent a letter to President Obama urgently requesting information regarding the administration’s handling of the Ebola virus outbreak and details of a comprehensive strategy to stop the virus from affecting Americans. A copy of the letter can be viewed here.

On October 8, 2014, Rep. Kelly co-signed a bipartisan letter to President Obama urging him to take immediate action to prevent an outbreak of the Ebola virus in America by instituting travel restrictions, enhancing airport screenings, and possibly quarantining individuals who have traveled to or from the affected West African countries. The letter can be viewed here.

On October 9, 2014, Rep. Kelly sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Sylvia Burwell, and the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Frieden, expressing his deep concern about the possibility of the Ebola virus spreading to Pennsylvania. The letter was copied to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, and can be read here.