Commerce Clause Legalizes Covid-19 Quarantine

On January 31, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a Global Health Emergency and by March 13, a National Emergency was declared in the USA.[1] We found ourselves quarantined. Some citizens question the government’s authority to lock us down.

Interestingly, because Covid-19 jumped across State lines it became a threat to commerce under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution. This is called the “commerce clause”. It says that the United States Congress shall have power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”[2] The American Bar Association explains that regulating commerce includes preventing the spread of communicable diseases. Covid-19 is a communicable disease because airborne droplets are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. If you are not wearing a mask then you can inhale these virus droplets and become infected.[4] Thus, the Constitution authorizes quarantines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.[3]

What is the Federal government responsible for?

The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is the person in charge of preventing the spread of communicable diseases per Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S. Code § 264).[3]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is responsible for examining people arriving in the USA or traveling between states per Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts 70 and 71. In fact, the CDC routinely monitors foreigners at U.S. borders, as well as, passengers and crew arriving at U.S. ports and airports.[5] The CDC also collects consistent data about Covid-19. There is a national standard case definition for defining Covid-19 cases and deaths.

What are State governments responsible for?

Not everyone travels. The 10th Amendment of the Constitution says that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.[2] States must protect the health, safety, and welfare of people within their borders.

How is Covid-19 data reported?

Data supply chain for collecting and reporting Covid-19 data

State laws require hospitals, healthcare providers, and laboratories to report confirmed (or probable) COVID-19 cases and deaths to State or Local health departments. These departments may notify the CDC but this notification is voluntary. To protect the privacy of individuals, case data is anonymized when it is reported to the CDC. Because COVID-19 has been designated as an international public health emergency, the CDC reports national case data to WHO under International Health Regulations (2005).[6]

Much of the data you see about Covid-19 comes from this data supply chain. For example, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University uploads WHO data along with data from other sources and makes it publically available on their github repository[7]. Scientists use this data for their research. You can use it too.

Johns Hopkins data is cummulative and stored in comma-separated files. At the Civics & Covid-19 project, I process this data into daily statistics and upload it into a MySQL database for analysis and reporting. You can use our APIs to access this data for your own analysis and reporting.[8] See


[1] A Timeline of COVID-19 Developments in 2020 By American Journal of Managed Care, January 1, 2021.

[2] Constitution of the United States, 2020.

[3] Two centuries of law guide legal approach to modern pandemic, April 2020.

[4] CDC Covid-19 Frequently Asked Questions, 2021 at

[5] FAQ: COVID-19 Data and Surveillance, 2020.

[6] International Health Regulations (2005) Third Edition, January 2016.

[7] COVID-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. 2021.

[8] Civics & Covid-19, 2021.



Researcher, technologist, and paralegal student

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