Public Health Authority

Establishing legal authority for state and local public health agencies

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, backlash against public health authority is significantly limiting the ability of public health officials to do their job. Public health leaders have experienced personal threats, and many state legislatures have approved or are currently considering laws that would strip powers from local and state public health agencies. In many cases, these policy changes would diminish preparedness for future emergencies and worsen existing inequities in health and wealth.

Public health agencies are crucial for protecting Americans from threats to health and safety from man-made crises, natural disasters, and outbreaks of disease. Public health authority encompasses the legal rationales and processes that allow public health agencies in a specific jurisdiction to regulate business and public life and carry out both preventive and emergency actions.

Our collection of resources covers what you need to know about public health authority. Get started with the resources highlighted below or learn more about our other areas of work.

Threats to Public Health Authority
Threats to Public Health Authority
This fact sheet, created in partnership with the Local Solutions Support Center, summarizes ongoing legislative threats to public health authority.
Strengthening Public Health Authority
The Case for Strengthening Public Health Authority
Read an op-ed by Sarah de Guia and Dr. Oxiris Barbot on why states should strengthen, not limit, public health authority.
Preemption and COVID-19
Preemption During the Pandemic
Sarah de Guia, Sabrina Adler, and Kim Haddow discuss how preemption is being used to limit solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic — and what public health advocates and organizations can do about it.
COVID-19 Policy Playbook
Policymaking During COVID-19 and Beyond
Aimed at federal, state, and local leaders, this policy playbook provides research-driven legal analysis and recommendations from 50 national experts, integrating lessons learned in the course of the pandemic.