New coronavirus infections and deaths in the United States have fallen dramatically from previous highs, although more contagious varieties are spreading. Most people are now at least partially vaccinated, but persistent hesitation has slowed the pace and even resulted in some doses being wasted.
So is the COVID-19 emergency over or is it going to continue?
This is the question that residents and business owners in many states face when governors decide whether to terminate or renew emergency declarations that have allowed them to restrict public gatherings and businesses, mandate masks, circumvent normal shopping rules, and Use National Guard troops to help administer vaccines.
In many states, these emergency declarations have been routinely renewed by governors every few weeks or months since the pandemic began. But these decisions are getting harder and harder to make – and the renewals harder to justify – as circumstances improve and state lawmakers urge to restore the balance of power.
Governors, lawmakers, and judges have ended emergency declarations in more than half a dozen states. These include South Carolina and New Hampshire, where Republican governors suspended their emergency ordinances last week.
More could join this list soon. About half of the states had emergency ordinances that were due to expire before July 4th. And over a dozen other states have perpetual emergency ordinances that governors could override at any time.
Massachusetts has been in a perpetual state of emergency for 15 months. But Governor Charlie Baker has said this will end on Tuesday. He credited the state’s high vaccination rate for helping turn the tide in the fight against the coronavirus.
“Unless something strange happens, I’d say it’s as good as over,” said Baker, a Republican.
Coronavirus emergencies could also leak in Kansas and Vermont on Tuesday.
Kansas top Republican lawmakers, whose approval is required for an extension, have signaled that they will not continue an emergency ordinance issued by Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, though she prefers to stay through August.
Vermont Republican Governor Phil Scott has announced that it will lift all remaining emergency restrictions once 80 percent of eligible residents receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – a threshold the state is about to hit.
In many states, Republicans are leading the push to end the emergency declarations, although it is not entirely partisan. Some Democrats have supported such moves as well, and some Republican governors have continued their emergency declarations. This includes Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who extended a declaration of emergency until July 4th.
Hawaii Governor David Ige, a Democrat, recently extended his declaration of emergency for an additional 60 days to August 6. The tourist-dependent state that has quarantined travelers to effectively shut down the tourism industry has the lowest per capita COVID in the country -19 case rate since the pandemic began and the highest unemployment rate. While some might cite this as a reason for the lifting of emergency orders, Ige said it was too early to do so.
“COVID-19 continues to threaten the health, safety and wellbeing of the people of Hawaii,” Ige wrote as he extended his declaration of emergency.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom ends most coronavirus restrictions effective Tuesday, but continues his underlying declaration of emergency. While this may sound confusing to residents, the move allows Newsom to retain its authority to suspend state laws, enact new rules, and reintroduce restrictions if coronavirus cases pick up again.
“This disease has not been eradicated. It hasn’t gone away, ”said the Democratic governor as he declared his ongoing emergency declaration.
That doesn’t go well with the Republican legislature, who are in the minority. In the state Senate, they have repeatedly tried to pass a resolution that would end Newsom’s declaration, but fail to convince the majority Democrats.
“The vaccination rate in California is high and the COVID infection rate continues to decline,” said Republican Senator Melissa Melendez. “It is time for the legislature to shake off the impotence imposed by the governor on the legislature and pass it” [the resolution]. “
At the national level, the public health emergency declared by Health and Social Affairs Minister Xavier Becerra is expected to last until July 20, although a further 90-day extension is possible.
Over the past week, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials has received increased inquiries from state officials about the possible consequences of lifting their emergency declarations, said Andy Baker-White, senior director of health policy for the association.
Much of federal pandemic aid – including $ 350 billion to state and local governments in President Joe Biden’s recent aid package and reimbursements for vaccine distribution – could go to the states even if they end their emergency declarations.
But some federal aid could be affected. According to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, states are only eligible for enhanced federal food aid if they have a COVID-19 emergency or disaster statement.
For many governors, maintaining emergency declarations could be less disruptive to the public than repealing them and later reimposing them if the pandemic worsens, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
But relinquishing their emergency powers could be beneficial for other governors, he said.
“Honestly, in a state where you fear that you will be accused of abusing these authorities, maybe you should get rid of them when you don’t need them,” said Benjamin.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat running for re-election this year, ended the state health emergency earlier this month under an agreement with the Democratic lawmakers who control the legislature. He also signed a bill to get rid of more than 100 executive orders, but retained just over a dozen, including those that imposed evictions and shutdowns of utility companies.
Murphy called it a “clear and decisive step towards normalcy,” but some Republican lawmakers said it didn’t go far enough to curtail his powers.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican-led legislature voted Thursday to end Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s declaration of emergency – taking advantage of the new powers granted to lawmakers under a constitutional amendment approved by voters last month. The immediate practical effect is limited, however, as legislators have also voted to extend hundreds of Wolf government exemptions through September 30th.
Termination of declarations of emergency can affect a variety of sub-policies, such as: For example, many states have relaxed licensing requirements that have allowed more medical professionals to return to work.
After Oklahomas Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, finished his emergency declaration on May 4, the state stopped updating its online dashboard with the number of hospital beds available and its supply of ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment. The lifting of the emergency order also triggered a 30-day countdown to resumption of face-to-face meetings for government agencies and ended the ability for government agencies to hire additional staff and move resources.
Benjamin, of the Public Health Association, said he expected more states to end their coronavirus emergency orders in the coming weeks due to improved infection and vaccination records, as well as public fatigue over long-lasting precautionary measures.
“They’re sending an emotional or psychological message that says, ‘Okay, we’re no longer in an emergency,'” he said. “This offers the opportunity to give people a feeling of normalcy.”
Story by David A. Lieb. Associate press writers John Hanna, Audrey McAvoy, Sean Murphy, and Wilson Ring contributed to this report.
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