CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- This pandemic isn't the first time people have been encouraged to wear masks to prevent the spread of a disease.
Those infected with tuberculosis have been urged to do it for many years.
Jill Moore, a lawyer, said that's because "you do have a legal responsibility to refrain from infecting other people."
Moore is a communicable disease law expert at UNC's School of Government.
She was one of the policy analysts who attended North Carolina's 2006 pandemic flu summit.
But no one there predicted anything like the COVID-19.
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"The scope of this pandemic, the nature of the response, the extent to which it has tested the limits of legal authority, has been beyond what I anticipated," Moore told ABC 11.
Moore pointed out there are two sets of laws that come into play during this pandemic.
The set we've heard most about is emergency management laws, the laws that give the governor power to do what he believes will best control the spread of the virus.
"In the context of this particular pandemic some of the control measures that we've all become so familiar with, the face masks, the social distancing, the mass gathering restrictions, those have been addressed under emergency management authority rather than under public health authority," Moore said.
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That authority allows public health officials to require those infected with COVID-19 to do all they can not to spread the virus.
"A person who is infected or suspected of being infected is supposed to isolate themselves from others. Usually that means by staying home," Moore said.
Moore said if someone with COVID-19 won't stay home or take other precautions, such as wearing a mask, and it's reported, health officials would likely first see if they can get the person to voluntarily comply.
If they won't comply the law allows for drastic action.
"They could be charged with a misdemeanor and detained immediately pre-trial to ensure that don't infect others while that action is pending," she said.
It's one of the few times a misdemeanor charge would allow a person to be held.
But if that's what it takes to ensure the safety of the public, the law allows it.
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