Legal Authority For Local Health Officers’ and Local Governments’ Responses To COVID-19 In California

This legal memo outlines legal authority of local health officers and local governments in the state of California to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It outlines whether, when, and how these entities may exercise their authority under state emergency response laws as well as insights for others looking to adopt emergency orders or regulations related to COVID-19.

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Public Health Authority

The authority to act to protect and promote the public's health has emerged over the course of our Nation’s history, and has enabled many of modern public health’s greatest achievements. Today, public health agencies use their authority to promote health, prevent the spread of infectious disease, protect against environmental hazards, advance equity and assure local public health infrastructure and health services. During declared emergencies, state and federal authorities have broader powers to act to assist governments, suspend or modify legal requirements, pass and enforce law and expend funds for the health, safety and welfare of society. Recently, some states have moved to limit public health powers. Such efforts pose a mounting challenge for public health’s response to COVID-19 and future threats.

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Public Health