On October 19, the Governor signed AB 262 which deals with the responsibility of local health officials during a public health crisis due to a communicable disease.
Here is the text of the new law:
Many parents have expressed concern if not downright fear that their pets will be removed, or that quarantines will be imposed. I do not think the bill will significantly change things. However, the concern is understandable in light of the on-going negative PR campaign against the vaccine concerned and the bill’s timing; It was introduced and passed during the same session as SB276/714.
Here is the bill summary:
“Existing law requires the State Department of Public Health to examine into the causes of communicable disease in man and domestic animals occurring or likely to occur in this state, and to establish a list of reportable diseases and conditions. Existing law requires a health officer knowing or having reason to believe that any case of the diseases made reportable by regulation of the department, or any other contagious, infectious or communicable disease exists, or has recently existed, within the territory under the local health officer’s jurisdiction, to take measures to prevent the spread of the disease or occurrence of additional cases.
This bill would require a local health officer, during an outbreak of a communicable disease, or upon the imminent and proximate threat of a communicable disease outbreak or epidemic that threatens the public’s health, to notify and update governmental entities within the health officer’s jurisdiction about certain communicable diseases that may affect them, if, in the opinion of the local health officer, action or inaction on the part of the governmental entity might affect outbreak response efforts. The bill would require the local health officer to make any relevant information available to those governmental entities, as specified, and would require both the local health officer and the governmental entities to comply with applicable state and federal privacy laws with regard to information that the health officer provides to the governmental entities. The bill would authorize the local health officer to issue orders to other governmental entities within the local health officer’s jurisdiction to take any action the local health officer deems necessary to control the spread of the communicable disease.
By imposing new requirements on local health officers, this bill would create a state-mandated local program.”
So, what does it mean for the vaccine concerned?
The first thing I would say is that I do not see the new law as creating any new powers of local public health officials over the public. What the state and local governments can do in terms of responses to public health crises is set out in state and local health laws. Prior to AB 262, public health authorities had significant powers to deal with public health crises involving humans and animals in certain defined public health communicable disease outbreaks. I do not see AB 262 as directly expanding the powers of the local governments over the public.
There are two operative parts to the bill. The first is innocuous, the second might not be, and might in some cases indirectly affect the public. Let’s take a look at the specifics:
The bill imposes a reporting requirement on local health departments to report outbreaks or imminent outbreaks, and specifically:
“(1) Promptly notify and update governmental entities within the local health officer’s jurisdiction about communicable diseases listed in Section 2500 of Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations that may affect them, if, in the opinion of the local health officer, action or inaction on the part of the governmental entity might affect outbreak response efforts.”
(2) Make any relevant information available to governmental entities, including, but not limited to, the locations of concentrations of cases, the number of residents affected, and the measures that the governmental entities should take to assist with outbreak response efforts.”
I do not see any problem with this. Disseminating information about communicable diseases is not a bad thing (in and of itself).
Here is the second thing:
“(b) In addition to the actions required under subdivision (a), the local health officer may issue orders to other governmental entities within the local health officer’s jurisdiction to take any action the local health officer deems necessary to control the spread of the communicable disease.”
I read this part as saying that the local public health department runs the show in terms of a local health response to a public health crisis based on a communicable disease.
Isn’t the language that the local health official can “take any action” *** [he/she] deems necessary to control the spread of the communicable disease” horrible?
I don’t think so. I read this in the context of the public health laws which set out the responses and powers of the public health departments during public health crises. So again, I do not see this bill as expanding the powers of the public health department over the public. Rather, it sets out the chain of command, and puts the public health official as the decision maker over all other local officials.
All of you are understandably focused on vaccines and what public health officials can do to your unvaccinated children. However, the public health department’s mandate is much broader than that and includes protecting the public from non-vaccinatable fatal human disease like anthrax and Ebola which actually could create a public health crisis. Regardless of how much personal freedom you might think you are entitled to, no one has the right to be the next Typhoid Mary, and spread a fatal communicable disease, and no court will ever create/uphold such a right. Admittedly, that begs the question about what could happen in a measles epidemic, like the recent one in New York.
Under what conditions can the public health department issue public health orders to local officials?
The somewhat vague answer is in the beginning of the new law:
“(a) During an outbreak of a communicable disease, or upon the imminent and proximate threat of a communicable disease outbreak or epidemic that threatens the public’s health, a local health officer shall do both of the following:” [the two provisions are discussed above]
Obviously, the concern is what is an imminent and proximate threat of a communicable disease outbreak or epidemic.” How many cases? That’s a good question, but I don’t know the answer.
What about your pets?
Some public health crises involve animals, especially those in the food supply, and the public health departments have the authority to issue orders relating thereto. However, I don’t see the public health department going after your dog or cat in a measles outbreak.
The Big Question: What can the local public health department do to you under AB 262 if there is a measles “public health crisis”?
My answer: the same thing it could do to you under the old law, (except that the new law clarifies the chain of command), so no sense worrying about the new law.
Rick Jaffe, Esq.