According to a new report from Kaiser Health News released Wednesday, members of every state legislature are trying to weaken the ability of state health officials to implement restrictions put in place to protect the public against infectious diseases.
The report said at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. That number could have been higher if not for some governors vetoing their state’s bill.
Highlights of the laws in those 26 states include:
In at least 16, legislators have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, quarantines or isolation.
At least 17 states passed laws banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates or passports, or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements.
At least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. In five other states, executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements.
More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.
Public health academics and officials are frustrated that they, instead of the virus, have become the enemy.
“It’s kind of like having your hands tied in the middle of a boxing match,” Jefferson County, Missouri Health Department Executive Director Kelley Vollmar said.
But proponents of the new limits say they are a necessary check on executive powers. Arkansas state Sen. Trent Garner said his state’s mask mandate ban reflects the will of the people.
“What the people of Arkansas want is the decision to be left in their hands, to them and their family,” Garner said. “It’s time to take the power away from the so-called experts, whose ideas have been woefully inadequate.”
Also on Wednesday, the White House reported 2.8 million Americans took advantage of a special six-month period to sign up for subsidized health insurance coverage. The coverage was made more affordable by the American Rescue Plan.
“That’s 2.8 million families who will have more security, more breathing room, and more money in their pocket if an illness or accident hits home,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Altogether, 12.2 million Americans are actively enrolled in coverage under the Affordable Care Act—an all-time high.”