This policy brief synthesizes the data depicted in Temple University’s Sentinel Surveillance of Emerging Laws Limiting Public Health Emergency Orders. The brief outlines legislation introduced between January 2021 and May 2022, health equity implications of this legislation, and state breakdowns of limits to authority. Finally, the brief provides policy recommendations for guiding conversations around public health authority and calls for further research on the implications of limits to public health authority.
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.