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Connecticut health department gets power to quarantine possible Ebola victims

Gov. Dan Malloy (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed an order Tuesday allowing the state health commissioner to order quarantines for individuals who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus, a step he said would help fight any possible outbreak.

The order [pdf] gives Jewel Mullen, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, authority to order isolation or quarantine for anyone believed to be exposed to or infected with the deadly virus.

“We are taking this action today to ensure that we are prepared, in advance, to deal with any identified cases in which someone has been exposed to the virus or, worst case, infected,” Malloy said in a statement. “[I]t is essential to be prepared and we need to have the authorities in place that will allow us to move quickly to protect public health, if and when that becomes necessary.”

The order declares a public health emergency in Connecticut even though there are no suspected cases of Ebola in the state.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tested dozens of people for the Ebola virus, and so far only one person — Thomas Duncan, the Liberian currently in critical condition in a Dallas hospital — has been positive.

Texas officials have ordered four of Duncan’s family members quarantined for at least two more weeks, through the end of Ebola’s 21-day incubation period. State law gives health officials the authority to quarantine people to prevent the spread of any disease.

Most other states have some law on the books offering varying degrees of quarantine power. The federal government, through the CDC, also has the power to detain and quarantine anyone arriving in the U.S. or traveling between states who may have a communicable disease, according to CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, though the last time that power was widely used was during an influenza epidemic in the early part of the 20th century, when more than 600,000 people died.