In some cases, the state must have a declaration in place to receive funding from the federal government. Though Connecticut’s public health emergency ended last month, the state kept a limited version in place so that it can receive more federal money for food assistance for low-income families.
The pandemic has prompted some states to change the regulations surrounding emergency orders during the pandemic, said Andy Baker-White, senior director of state health policy at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Legislatures have amended the process for declaring an emergency, shortened the maximum length of each emergency and reduced the number of times that a governor can renew an emergency declaration. In Arizona, beginning next January, the governor cannot declare a public health emergency without the legislature’s approval.
“With the backlash to the exercise of this authority, there has to be political will, as well as the expense of political capital to bring back a declaration,” Mr. Baker-White said. “Some states have taken things that they were only able to do in an emergency and put that action into the law, so they don’t need the emergency trigger.”
Virginia no longer needs an emergency order to allow out-of-state health workers to come into the state to provide care, he said, because it passed a regulation to that effect. Other states have permanently broadened pharmacists’ scope of practice and given health care workers immunity from malpractice liability.
But one effect of the pandemic — the improved access to telehealth — is at risk, since many waivers that allow such care across state borders have expired. And in states that no longer have emergencies declared, hospitals have once again instated capacity limits. Lifting those in the event of another surge would require issuing another declaration.
Public health emergencies are by definition only a temporary solution to states’ health care problems, and the pandemic created an opportunity to reassess their function, according to one expert.
“There’s a rebooting that needs to happen,” said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. “The emergency declarations really need to be short term. The fact that they’re going away is good.”