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Social Distancing Law Assessment Template

In the fall of 2005, the President released the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, which was followed in 2006 by the detailed National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan from the U.S. Homeland Security Council (HSC). The HSC Implementation Plan assigned tasks across the federal government to improve pandemic influenza preparedness. Nearly 200 of these action items were assigned to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The HSC Implementation Plan acknowledged the important role social distancing measures will play in helping to reduce the impact of pandemic influenza and, also, the need for governments at all levels to assess their legal capacity to flexibly respond to shifting circumstances during a pandemic. The action items assigned to CDC stimulated creation and implementation of the Social Distancing Law Project. Generally, Chapter 6 of the HSC Implementation Plan, which dealt with the protection of human health, called for providing guidance to all levels of government “…on the range of options for infection control and containment, including those circumstances where social distancing measures, limitations on gatherings, or quarantine authority may be an appropriate public health intervention.”

As part of its plan to address these action items, HHS asked CDC to evaluate the sufficiency and understanding of states’ existing legal authorities to implement such social distancing measures as suspension of public gatherings, quarantine, and curfew, among other limits on movement, as well as their legal authority to dispense antiviral and other prescription drugs on a mass or community-wide basis.

The Social Distancing Law Project
Sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and directed by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the Social Distancing Law Project was conducted in 17 jurisdictions in 2007, and by 9 additional jurisdictions in 2010, to assess the sufficiency of their legal preparedness to implement social distancing effectively. The 2007 jurisdictions also assessed their legal authority to prescribe and dispense pharmaceutical drugs on a mass basis as a key potential countermeasure for an influenza pandemic.

The Social Distancing Law Project has two primary components, as specified by CDC and ASTHO: The Public Health Law Program subsequently created a Social Distancing Law Assessment Template for use by other interested jurisdictions. It includes a standardized template for assessing legal authorities, a hypothetical scenario and instructions for conducting a Legal Consultation Meeting, and examples of completed documents from the state of Michigan and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Social Distancing Law Assessment Template

  • Legal Assessments
  • Legal Consultation Meetings and After-Action Reports

Selected Social Distancing Law Project documents from the state of Michigan:

Information about Virginia's Social Distancing Law Project is available at

Article: Karen Leeb, JD, MLS, Denise Chrysler, JD, and Richard Goodman, MD, JD, MPH, The Social Distancing Law Project Template: A Method for Jurisdictions to Assess Understanding of Relevant Legal Authorities, vol. 4/no. 1 American Medical Association pg74 (2010).

(posted July 20, 2010)

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