US & World

In a pandemic, the state reduced public health power

At least 26 states have passed legislation that permanently weakens government authority to protect public health.

Washington — More than half of U.S. states’ Republicans are deprived of the power that state and local officials use to protect their people from infectious diseases, stimulated by voters angry at the blockade and mask orders. increase.

In all 50 states, legislators have proposed legislation to curb such public health forces since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Kaiser Health News review. At least 26 states have passed legislation that permanently weakens government authority to protect public health. In three more states, executive orders, voting initiatives, or the Supreme Court’s ruling restricted long-term public health powers.

In Arkansas, legislators ban mask mandates, except for private businesses or state-owned medical facilities, calling them “the burden on the public peace, health, and security of the citizens of this state.” In Idaho, county commissioners, who usually do not have public health expertise, can deny county-wide public health orders. Also, in Kansas and Tennessee, the school board, not the health authorities, has the authority to close schools.

President Joe Biden announced last week that vaccination requirements and other COVID-19 measures were announced, saying that such legislation had forced him to act. Said everything:

— In at least 16 states, legislators limit the authority mandated by public health authorities — mask obligations, quarantine, or quarantine. In some cases, they empowered themselves or local elected politicians to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

— At least 17 states have passed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates or passports, or made it easier to circumvent vaccine requirements.

— At least nine states have new legislation that prohibits or limits mask obligations. Executive orders or court decisions obscure five additional requirements.

Many of these laws come into force because COVID-19 hospitalizations in some areas have reached a maximum at any point in the pandemic.

“The limits of the law and the shrinking authorities can lead to more illnesses, injuries, hospitalizations and even deaths,” said Lori Tremmel Freeman, head of the National Association of County and Municipal Health Officials. Stated.

Public health scholars and officials are complaining that they have become enemies instead of viruses. They argue that this has consequences that go far beyond this pandemic, reducing the ability to combat the latest COVID-19 surge and future outbreaks of the disease.

Kelly Volmer, Secretary-General of the Jefferson County Health Department in Missouri, said:

However, supporters of the new restrictions say they are a necessary check of executive branch and give lawmakers a say in long-term emergencies. Arkansas Senator Trent Garner said the Republican Party had sponsored the success of his state’s mask mandate ban bill, and said he was trying to reflect the will of the people.

“What the Arkansaw people want is a decision to put them and their families in their hands,” Garner said. “It’s time to take power from the so-called experts, whose ideas were terribly inadequate.”

Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson regretted having convened a special legislative session in early August after first signing the bill, asking the legislature to make a school exception. The legislator refused. The law is currently being blocked by a judge in Arkansas who considers it unconstitutional. Court battles continue in other states.

The Montana Parliament severely limits public health quarantine and quarantine powers, strengthens the power of elected local officials over local health committees, prevents restrictions on religious meetings, and is required by employers, including medical practice. Passed some of the most restrictive laws of all, banning COVID-19, influenza or other vaccinations.

With the loss of the ability to order quarantine, Karen Sullivan, a health officer at the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department in Montana, said what’s next, not only during this pandemic, but due to future measles outbreaks. I was afraid of what would happen.

“Depending on morality and goodwill is not a good public health practice,” she said.

Freeman said the group of city and county health officials was with the US Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group of corporate support that promoted model bills, especially to limit the emergency authority of the governor and other officials. In comparison, he said he lacked influence and resources. According to a KHN review, the bill seems to have influenced dozens of state-level bills. At least 15 states have passed legislation limiting emergency authority. In some states, the governor can no longer enact a mask mandate, and its executive order could be overturned by the legislature.

The new law aims to reduce the powers of the governor and restore the balance of powers between state authorities and legislatures, said Jonathon Hauenschild, director of the ALEC Task Force on Communications and Technology. .. “Governor is elected, but they often delegated a lot of power to the public health authorities they appointed,” Houndschild said.

Dr. David Welsh, a rural public health officer in Ripley County, was devastated when the Indiana Parliament overturned the governor’s veto and passed a bill empowering county members to consider public health orders. ..

People immediately stopped calling him to report a COVID-19 violation. It was “like turning off a lamp,” Wales said.

He is considering resigning. If he does, he will join at least 303 public health leaders who have retired, resigned, or been dismissed since the pandemic began, according to an ongoing analysis by the KHN and Associated Press. This means that one in five Americans lost their local health leader during the pandemic.

“This is a deadly blow,” said Brian Castrucci, CEO of the public health advocate de Beaumont Foundation, in the field of public health.

Public health groups are looking forward to more combat bills.

Former Oregon Democratic Senator Wayne Forbush said some of today’s politicians may come to regret these laws.

Fawbush was a sponsor of the 1989 law, which means that Oregon could not require health care workers to be vaccinated with COVID-19 32 years later. Calling legislation a “troublesome business,” Forbush said he wouldn’t have pushed the bill through if he knew what he was doing.

KHN data reporter Hannah Lecht, correspondent Katharine Houghton of Montana, and Associated Press writer Michelle R. Smith of Providence, Rhode Island contributed to this report.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national news room that produces detailed journalism on health issues. KHN, along with policy analysis and polling, is one of the three major operations programs of the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). KFF is a donated non-profit organization that provides the public with information on health issues.

In a pandemic, the state reduced public health power

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