NACCHO, NPHL Issue Report on Public Health Authority Limitations

This week, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and the Network for Public Health Law (NPHL) issued a report entitled, “Proposed Limits on Public Health Authority: Dangerous for Public Health.” The report details state-level efforts in the U.S. to roll back or severely limit the authority of public health agencies which will ultimately impact their ability to protect the public from serious illness, injury, and death both during and long after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent months, at least 15 state legislatures have passed or are considering measures to limit the legal authority of public health agencies, and other states may consider such legislation in the future, hindering the ability to health departments to do their jobs and putting the public at risk.

NACCHO and NPHL highlight numerous examples of proposed legislation in various states that would prohibit requiring face coverings in any situation, ban the use of quarantine, block the closure of businesses necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, and strip local governments of the ability to respond to local emergency conditions, among other actions.

The report raises significant concerns with limitations on legal authorities of public health agencies and details the four conclusions:

  • Legislation to block reasonable public health measures like mask wearing, social distancing, and quarantine poses an immediate threat to life and health.
  • Legislation to stop expert public health agencies from leading the response to health emergencies creates unforeseen, serious risks to life and health.
  • Legislation that strips authority from public health agencies and the executive branch infringes on the constitutional separation of powers and undermines effective government response.
  • These laws could make it harder to advance health equity during a pandemic that has disproportionately sickened and killed Black, Hispanic and Latino, and Indigenous Americans.

The full NACCHO-NPHL report is available here.