More than 200 public health advocates and officials, including nearly all of the living former agency heads, have signed a amicus curiae brief filed Tuesday in support of the Justice Department’s appeal. The DOJ wants to reverse an April lower court ruling that lifted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirement, which had been in effect since early 2021.
“The public health community has literally spoken with one voice to ensure the CDC has the powers it needs,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, one of the amicus brief’s writers. , in an interview.
“The CDC must have the power to act with agility and decisiveness when a health emergency arises — and we don’t know what that health emergency will be,” said Gostin, a university professor and founder of the O’Chair. Neill in Global Health Law at Georgetown. University. “It’s not about masks per se. It’s about giving the nation’s public health agency the tools it needs to keep America safe. »
Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the U.S. District Court for the Intermediate District of Florida ruled that the CDC had mischaracterized the mask mandate as a form of “sanitation” to justify its authority in the matter. She asked why the CDC hadn’t looked for alternatives and said the order doesn’t actually require universal masking to stop transmission, because it allows exceptions, such as people eating or drinking.
Signatories of the amicus brief include epidemiologists, local and regional health commissioners, heads of federal agencies and organizations such as the American Public Health Association and the president of the National Academy of Medicine, Gostin said. .
Former CDC directors include Julie L. Gerberding, Tom Frieden, William L. Roper, Jeffrey P. Koplan, William H. Foege, and Richard Besser, who served as interim director.
The Health Freedom Defense Fund, which sued the US government to lift the mask requirement, has until August 1 to file its own brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
One of the key arguments in the amicus brief is that the mask mandate is a core function of the CDC.
“I was, for example, very supportive of the moratorium on housing evictions that the CDC issued. But I said then, and I say now, it was at the limit of CDC authority,” Gostin said of the order that expired last year to prevent people to be deported in order to slow the spread of the virus that causes Covid19.
But the mask requirement is central to the CDC’s authority, Gostin said. “He is actually at the height of his powers. And if he can’t do that to an airline at an airport, he can’t do anything. And you literally crush the agency.
The brief also argues that Mizelle’s interpretation of the word sanitation in the Public Health Services Act is too narrow and constrained.
“Wearing a mask does not clean anything”, Mizelle, a person appointed by the former president
But when the US government passed the law in 1944, “sanitation” meant sanitary hygiene, Gostin said. He noted that when the World Health Organization originally adopted the International Health Regulations to prevent the global spread of disease, they were called the International Health Regulations.
“Even if you are an originalist and look at the statutory and constitutional language, the original meaning of sanitation was still very broad and certainly included masks. Masks have been part of infectious disease control for more than a century in the United States, and they were widely used during the 1918 flu pandemic,” he said.
The case is Health Freedom Defense Fund v. United States, 11th Cir., No. 22-11287, amicus brief filed 7/6/22.