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Public Health Emergency Declaration Q&As

Under section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services can declare a Public Health Emergency (PHE) if he determines, after consulting with such public health officials as may be necessary, that 1) a disease or disorder presents a PHE, or 2) a PHE, including significant outbreaks of infectious diseases or bioterrorist attacks, otherwise exists.  A PHE declaration allows the Secretary to take certain actions in response to the PHE.  In addition, a public health emergency can be a necessary step in authorizing the Secretary to take a variety of discretionary actions to respond to the PHE under the statutes HHS administers. 

Questions have arisen from states, political subdivisions, and the healthcare community regarding PHE declarations.  The following is not an exhaustive review of section 319 of the PHS Act or of PHE declarations in all contexts, nor a protocol for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) implementation of a PHE declaration.