Course Description

Presenter: Polly J. Price, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law and Professor of Global Health, Rollins School of Public Health

Pandemics and the Law of Social Distancing

COVID-19 familiarized many Americans with “social distancing,” a term encompassing a variety of actions intended to mitigate the spread of contagious disease. Elected leaders, especially state governors, varied remarkably in their attitudes toward social distancing for business and school closures, size limits on gatherings, dining at indoor restaurants, travel restrictions and quarantine policy, and the use of face masks. The dizzying patchwork of COVID-19 policies looked more like the response of 50 different nations than that of the resource-rich and technologically advanced single nation the United States is. Some governors opposed mandates in favor of voluntary compliance on the grounds that citizens should be “allowed to exercise their constitutional freedoms,” as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp stated. Polly Price will explain the law of social distancing and why it can vary so markedly between states. Who decides what safety measures are necessary? Where is the line between emergency mandates and what sometimes seems to be a politically charged view of constitutional freedoms? When might public health orders violate individual rights? The answers to these questions inform the prospects for legal reform in advance of the next pandemic.

Professor Polly Price, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law, is also Professor of Global Health in the Rollins School of Public Health. She is the author of a forthcoming book, "Plagues in the Nation," on how governments confront contagious disease. For the past year and a half, Prof. Price has served as an expert adviser to both the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association on a variety of COVID-related legal issues. She joined the Emory Law faculty in 1995 and is a graduate of Emory College and Harvard Law School.



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