Taking Action to Protect Public Health Authority 


Public health authority sets the stage for public health. Public health authority refers to the power of public health entities, like health departments, to do their jobs. Recently, some state legislatures have moved to limit public health powers. Such efforts pose a mounting challenge to public health’s response to ongoing and future threats. While giving public health entities the authority they need to do their jobs and protect public health is a great start to achieving equity, having a robust public health authority does not guarantee health equity; equity must be central to the public health practice.

This evolving series will equip you with the knowledge and resources to do your best advocacy. The series contains helpful context on why advocacy is essential and the tools and resources to provide you with the guidance and ready-to-use messages you need to do your best advocacy. This series focuses primarily on state-level trends in public health authority; however, local, tribal, and federal advocacy is equally important.

Explore this evolving learning series to learn more about advocating and supporting public health authority to achieve our vision for health and well-being. This learning series will consist of four chapters: Taking Action to Protect Public Health, Public Health Authority Under Threat, Protecting Public Health Authority Through Advocacy, and Stewardship and Starting Points. Begin your journey here with the following introductory concepts. Come back soon to explore the additional chapters.

What is public health authority?

Public health authority is the ability of a public health entity, like a health department, to enact regulations. Public health agencies use their authority to promote health, prevent the spread of infectious diseases, protect against environmental hazards, advance equity, and assure local public health infrastructure and health services. Health departments and public health agencies do this through vaccine mandates, water quality testing, restaurant regulation, and many other strategies.

Public Health Authority and the U.S. Constitution 

Through the police powers of the state granted under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, public health can pass and enforce regulations for the health, safety, and welfare of society. During COVID-19, these actions included isolation and quarantine requirements, vaccination mandates, revised standards for licensure of medical professionals, and other public health emergency response efforts.

Public Health Emergency Authority

During declared emergencies, state and federal authorities have broader powers to assist governments, suspend or modify legal requirements, pass, and enforce law, and expend funds for society’s health, safety, and welfare. Emergency declarations at state and federal levels trigger authorities and resources unavailable in non-emergencies.

Check out more resources on PHERN


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Public Health Authority
Under Threat


Protecting Public Health Authority Through Advocacy

Starting Points


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