New Study Published in Journal of Emergency Management Highlights Shifts in State and Territorial Emergency Powers Since the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 15, 2023

ARLINGTON, VA—A new article published in Journal of Emergency Management finds that state and territorial emergency powers have shifted since the emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic marked the first time in U.S. history when all 55 governors of the states and territories issued some type of emergency declaration in response to the same incident.

The article—jointly authored by experts from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Governors Association (NGA)—analyzes laws passed in 2020 and 2021 to reform emergency powers so that policymakers, emergency management agencies, health departments, and other decision makers can consider how their legal landscape has changed when preparing for future threats.

The extended use of these powers to address the COVID-19 emergency was highly controversial and during the 2020 and 2021 state/territorial legislative sessions there were efforts to limit governor and state health officials emergency powers. The paper includes a formal list of dates each state and territorial declared the emergency.

“Public health leaders should familiarize themselves with the shifts in emergency powers within their jurisdiction,” says Maggie Davis, JD, director of state health policy for ASTHO. “Some of these changes, such as expanding scopes of practice to facilitate vaccine administration will make future responses easier. Other changes, such as the small number of states that altered their isolation and quarantine powers, may need to work with other leaders in their states to clarify what these changes mean for future public health responses.”

“ASTHO is happy to work with our partners at CDC and the NGA to highlight these shifts in emergency powers for policymakers, public health leaders, and others to consider in their future emergency planning efforts,” Davis added.

Study authors will be hosting a webinar this spring (details to be posted soon), and are hosting a session at PrepSummit 2023 titled, “What is the Future of Legal Preparedness? Legislative and Judicial trends During COVID-19 and How Changes in the Law May Impact Emergency Response Capabilities,” on Monday, April 24 from 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.).


ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and freely associated states, and Washington, D.C., as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.