Most States Have Ended Their COVID Health Emergencies

By: - May 19, 2022 12:00 am

Students in a fourth grade class in Lynwood, Calif., wear masks under a mandate from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and the authority granted him by the state’s public health emergency. Declarations of public health emergencies have expired in close to 35 states, and most of the remainder are likely to do so by August. Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press

The Biden administration is expected to announce Monday whether it will extend the federal public health emergency until October after the current declaration expires in July. But, already, close to 35 states have ended their COVID-19 public health emergency declarations. Absent renewals, most of the rest are set to end before August.

Although the specific authorities that state public health emergency declarations confer on governors and their health departments vary from state to state, they all give powers not available at other times.

They have provided the authority to institute lockdowns, quarantines and stay-at-home orders, to impose masking mandates, to require businesses to close or limit density and individuals to abide by other restrictions.

Public health emergency declarations have allowed states to relax certain licensing requirements—for instance, to permit out-of-state medical providers to work within their borders without a license from that state or to allow retired practitioners with expired licenses to resume practicing.

Declarations also have provided state governments with more flexibility in spending and streamlined normal procurement processes to get help to where it has been needed quickly. Frequently, declarations of emergency have been accompanied by call-ups of a state’s National Guard.

The emergency orders have enabled states to take control of available privately held medical goods and equipment and direct them to where they were most needed. And they have given states authority to coordinate the activities of competing hospital systems to try to limit any from being overwhelmed so that patients could be handled as efficiently as possible.

All states declared public health emergencies when COVID-19 hit the United States in the early months of 2020. Over time, legislatures in a number of states, mainly Republican-leaning ones, did curtail some of the authority granted by public health emergency declarations.

As with federal declarations, most state public health emergencies are in force for a finite period, usually several months, and must be renewed to continue. That is what happened in most states. Washington and West Virginia both must actively lift their states of emergency, which neither has done yet.

Michigan’s state of emergency ended early in the pandemic, in October 2020, and Wisconsin’s in March 2021, both the result of state Supreme Court rulings. Twenty other states ended their public health emergencies by the end of that year, some before the delta and omicron surges began.

Several emergency declarations are set to end this month, including those in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. That leaves California, Connecticut, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island, all of whose declarations are to expire this summer. Kansas’ will end Jan. 30, 2023.

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Michael Ollove

Michael Ollove covers health care for Stateline. Ollove worked for many years at The Baltimore Sun, as an enterprise reporter and an editor.