Every public health crisis poses unique legal and ethical challenges, but none more so in modern times than the novel coronavirus pandemic. Urgent responses to the pandemic have halted movement and work and dramatically changed daily routines for most of our population in ways entirely unprecedented. As we wrote recently, this sweeping response challenges a host of civil liberties that state and federal statutes and constitutions protect. It should come as no surprise, then, that we are starting to hear widespread grumbling. There are even reports of some initial “protest” lawsuits. But even without overt legal challenges, public health officials are well attuned to the need to respect civil liberties in setting appropriate policies. And, if those officials are not well-attuned, politicians, who are concerned about widespread economic fallout, will forcefully remind them.
It follows that there is a pressing need for a set of principles to guide not just the imposing of COVID-type restrictions, but also relaxing or lifting them.