In some cases, a state must have a declaration in order to receive funding from the federal government. Although Connecticut’s public health emergency ended last month, the state has kept a limited version so it can get more federal food aid money for low-income families.
The pandemic has prompted some states to change rules regarding emergency orders during a pandemic, said Andy Baker-White, senior director of public health policy at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. The legislature has amended the emergency declaration process, reduced the maximum duration of each emergency, and reduced the number of times the governor can extend the emergency declaration. In Arizona, starting next January, the governor cannot declare a public health emergency without the approval of the legislature.
“In the face of backlash against the exercise of these powers, political will is needed, as well as the expenditure of political capital, to return the declaration,” he said. Baker White said. “Some states have taken what they could only do in an emergency and put that action into law so they don’t need an emergency trigger.”
Virginia no longer needs an emergency order to allow out-of-state health workers to come to the state to provide medical care, he said, because an ordinance has been passed to that effect. Other states have permanently expanded the scope of pharmacists and granted healthcare workers immunity from malpractice liability.
But one effect of the pandemic – improved access to telemedicine – is at risk as many waivers allowing such care across national borders have expired. And in states that have no longer declared emergencies, hospitals have reintroduced capacity limits. To remove them in the event of a new surge, another declaration will be required.
Public health emergencies are by definition only a temporary solution to state health problems, one expert said, and the pandemic has created an opportunity to reassess their function.
“A reboot is needed,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Declarations of a state of emergency should really be short-term. The fact that they are leaving is good.”