Germs at Bay
Politics, Public Health, and American Quarantine
by Charles Vidich
January 2021, 500pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-7833-6
$75, £58, 66€, A103
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-7834-3
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

While the recent global coronavirus pandemic has brought the topic of quarantine front and center, the practice of quarantine—and resistance to it—has a long and often contentious history in the United States.

This book examines America's experience with a wide range of quarantine practices over the past 400 years and explores the political, economic, immigration, and public health considerations that have prompted success or failure within the evolving role of public health.

The novel strain of coronavirus that emerged in late 2019 and became a worldwide pandemic in 2020 is only one of more than 87 new or emerging pathogens discovered since 1980 that have posed a risk to public health. While many may consider quarantine an antiquated practice, in reality it is often one of the only defenses against new and dangerous communicable diseases. Tracing the United States’ quarantine practices through the colonial, postcolonial, and modern eras, Germs at Bay: Politics, Public Health, and American Quarantine provides an eye-opening look at how quarantine has worked despite routine dismissal of its value.

This book is for anyone seeking to understand the challenges of controlling the spread of COVID-19 and will help readers internalize the lessons that may be learned from the pandemic. No other title provides this level of primary source data on the United States’ long reliance on quarantine practices and the political, social, and economic factors that have influenced them.


  • Offers guidance on quarantine decision-making within the U.S. democratic system
  • Chronicles the evolution of quarantine throughout U.S. history
  • Provides a detailed analysis of tens of thousands of primary-source local, state, and federal quarantine records that have been pieced together to tell America's quarantine story
  • Features illuminating case studies of some of the most important quarantine events in American history
Charles Vidich is a consultant and adviser on public health and bioterrorism issues and was appointed a visiting scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, working for 10 years on national quarantine policy. He has numerous publications on occupational and environmental health and served as incident commander for the U.S. Postal Service’s national anthrax response in 2001–2002. He holds SM and MCP degrees from Harvard and has received numerous White House, EPA, and Postal Service awards for his environmental and anthrax response work. He serves on the Connecticut Council on Environmental Quality, appointed by the Speaker of the House.


"Germs at Bay is a great book if you are interested in the how and why of quarantines like those at Boston Harbor or New York’s Ellis Island, or the current recommendations to keep COVID [from] further spread."—The History of Vaccines Blog, April 20, 2021
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