New coronavirus infections and deaths in the United States are down dramatically from previous highs, although more contagious variants are spreading. Most people are now at least partially vaccinated, but persistent hesitation has slowed the pace and even caused some doses to be wasted.
So, is the COVID-19 emergency over or continuing?
This is the question facing residents and business owners in many states as governors decide to end or extend emergency declarations that have allowed them to restrict public gatherings and businesses, mandate masks, bypass normal purchasing rules, and deploy National Guard troops to help administer vaccines.
In many states, these emergency declarations have been regularly extended by governors every few weeks or months since the start of the pandemic. But these decisions are getting harder to make – and extensions harder to justify – as circumstances improve and state lawmakers push to restore a balance of power.
Already, governors, lawmakers or judges have ended declarations of emergency in more than half a dozen states. This includes South Carolina and New Hampshire, where Republican governors suspended their emergency orders last week.
Others may soon join this list. About half of the states had emergency orders due to expire by July 4. And more than a dozen other states have open-ended emergency orders, which could be overruled at any time by governors.
Massachusetts has been in an indefinite state of emergency for 15 months. But Gov. Charlie Baker said it would end on Tuesday. He credited the state’s high vaccination rate with helping to turn the tide in the fight against the coronavirus.
“Unless something weird happens I would say it’s pretty much over,” said Baker, a Republican.
Coronavirus emergencies could also expire Tuesday in Kansas and Vermont.
Key Kansas Republican lawmakers, whose approval is needed for an extension, have signaled that they will not uphold an emergency order issued by Democratic Governor Laura Kelly, although she would rather she stay until August.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he would end all remaining emergency restrictions once 80% of eligible residents receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – a threshold that the state is about to reach.
In many states, Republicans are leading the campaign to end declarations of emergency, though not fully partisan. Some Democrats have also supported such measures, and some Republican governors have continued their declarations of urgency. That includes Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who extended a declaration of emergency until July 4.
Hawaii Governor David Ige, a Democrat, recently renewed his declaration of emergency for an additional 60 days, until August 6. The tourist-dependent state, which has imposed quarantines on travelers who effectively shut down the tourism industry, has the lowest COVID per capita in the country. -19 cases since the start of the pandemic and the highest unemployment rate. While some might cite this as a reason to lift emergency orders, Ige said it was too early to do so.
“COVID-19 continues to endanger the health, safety and well-being of the people of Hawaii,” Ige wrote in extending his declaration of emergency.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is ending most restrictions on coronaviruses effective Tuesday, but is continuing his underlying declaration of emergency. While it may seem confusing to residents, the move allows Newsom to retain its power to suspend state laws, impose new rules and reinstate restrictions if coronavirus cases rise again.
“This disease is not extinct. He has not disappeared, ”said the Democratic governor explaining his ongoing declaration of emergency.
This does not suit legislative Republicans, who are in the minority. In the state Senate, they have repeatedly tried to pass a resolution that would end Newsom’s statement, but fail to persuade the majority Democrats.
“The vaccination rate in California is high and the COVID infection rate continues to decline,” said Republican State Senator Melissa Melendez. “It is time for the legislature to shake off the impotence the governor has imposed on the legislative branch of government and pass (the resolution). “
Nationally, the public health emergency declared by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is expected to last until July 20, although another 90-day extension is possible.
Over the past week, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials has received an increased number of inquiries from state officials about the potential consequences of rescinding their emergency declarations, a said Andy Baker-White, senior director of health policy for the association.
Much of the federal pandemic aid – including $ 350 billion for state and local governments in President Joe Biden’s recent relief program and reimbursements for vaccine distributions – could go to the states themselves. if they end their declarations of emergency.
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 benefits if they have a declaration of a COVID-19 emergency or disaster in place.
For many governors, keeping emergency declarations in place may be less disruptive to the public than rescinding and reimposing them later if the pandemic worsens, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
But for other governors, it might be advantageous to relinquish their emergency powers, he said.
“Frankly, in a state where you’re worried that people will accuse you of abusing these authorities, if you don’t need it, you might want to get rid of it,” Benjamin said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year, ended the state’s public health emergency earlier this month as part of a deal with lawmakers Democrats, who control the Legislative Assembly. He also signed a law eliminating more than 100 executive decrees while retaining just over a dozen, including those imposing moratoriums on evictions and cuts to public services.
Murphy called this “unclear and decisive on the road to normalcy,” but some Republican lawmakers said it didn’t go far enough to limit his powers.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican-led legislature on Thursday voted to end Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s declaration of emergency – using new powers granted to lawmakers under a constitutional amendment approved by voters last month. But the immediate practical effect is limited, as lawmakers also voted to extend hundreds of regulatory waivers granted by the Wolf administration until September 30.
Ending emergency declarations can affect a variety of less publicized policies, such as relaxed licensing requirements in many states that have allowed more healthcare professionals to re-enter the workforce.
After Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, ended his declaration of emergency on May 4, the state stopped updating its dashboard online with the number of hospital beds available and its stock of ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment. The cancellation of the emergency order also triggered a 30-day countdown to resume face-to-face meetings of government agencies, and ended the ability of state agencies to hire additional staff and relocate. Resource.
Benjamin, of the public health association, said he expects more states to end their emergency coronavirus orders in the coming weeks due to improved data from infection and vaccination, as well as public weariness with long-term precautions.
“There is an emotional or psychological message you send out and say ‘OK we are no longer in a state of emergency’,” he said. “There is an opportunity here to give people a sense of normalcy. “
David A. Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Associated Press editors John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; and Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont, contributed to this report.
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