Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers in all 50 states have introduced bills to curb state and local officials’ public health authority. But GOP lawmakers in more than 30 states have passed laws that prevent officials from issuing vaccine mandates, shutting down churches, schools, and businesses, conducting contact tracing or imposing penalties for violating health restrictions, according to a Tuesday report from the New York Times.
By doing so, those Republican lawmakers across a total of 32 states, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers that state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases. In doing this, they have weakened health officials’ authority to implement policies to protect the public against the coronavirus, resulting in countless new cases and deaths.
The New York Times reports that in 13 states, lawmakers have limited public health officials’ powers to mandate vaccines, while 23 states have passed bills limiting officials’ ability to issue restrictions on schools, businesses, and churches. In at least 16 states, legislators have limited their power to order mask mandates, quarantines, or isolation. In some cases, they gave themselves or locally elected politicians the authority to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. At least 17 states passed laws banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates or passports or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements, and at least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. Executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements in five more.
Much of this legislation takes effect as COVID-19 hospitalizations in some areas are climbing to the highest numbers at any point in the pandemic, and children are back in school.
It's hard to read stories about what public health and public school officials have been facing and not see the consequences of the rather timid and muted response to 1/6. Conservative activists seem to have learned that the tactic can be applied everywhere w/ limited costs. pic.twitter.com/x9PbBjLYNB
— Stephen Holt (@SteveBHolt) October 19, 2021
For example, in Florida, a bill was passed allowing the governor to stop local health orders if they are considered to be too restrictive, the Times notes. That opened the door for Ron DeSantis, a Republican, to remove restrictions when his state’s COVID19 numbers were exploding in record numbers.
officials like FL Gov Ron DeSantis, as if free movement/association +mask free faces are somehow conservative. Restrictions should always be limited in type and duration. Public health and elected officials officials who don’t accept that are abusing their authority.
— Jack Kalavritinos (@Jkal1985) October 12, 2021
In Arkansas, legislators banned mask mandates except in private businesses or state-run health care settings, calling them “a burden on the public peace, health, and safety of the citizens of this state.” In Idaho, county commissioners, who typically have no public health expertise, can veto countywide public health orders. In Kansas and Tennessee, school boards, rather than health officials, have the power to close schools.
— CaliforniaHealthline (@CalHealthline) September 19, 2021
President Joe Biden last week announced sweeping vaccination mandates and other COVID-19 measures, saying he was forced to act partly because of such legislators. “My plan also takes on elected officials in states that are undermining you and these lifesaving actions,” he said.