State lawmakers across the United States seek to curtail governors’ emergency powers. New York and Arkansas lag in setting a target date for all adults to be eligible. Case numbers in India hit highs not seen in months as festival season begins.
The U.S. vaccination campaign is accelerating rapidly, with more than 91 million people — roughly a third of the adult population — having received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccination by Saturday. And nearly every state has announced that it will meet President Biden’s directive to make all adults eligible by May 1.
But as of Saturday afternoon, two states — Arkansas and New York — still had not declared a timeline for their residents, according to a New York Times vaccine rollout tracker.
A third state, Wyoming, has also not said when all adults would be able to get the shot, but eligibility in the state expands on a county-by-county basis, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health said, and 20 of the state’s 23 counties now allow all adults to get vaccinated. She said she expected full access “quite soon.”
In Arkansas, where a Times database shows that about 13 percent of the population of three million has been fully vaccinated, Gov. Asa Hutchinson this week extended eligibility to military veterans who are at least 18 years old. That decision came soon after appointments opened up for additional essential workers and adults between 16 and 64 who have some health conditions.
The state has moved to Phase 1C of its expansion, making almost one million new people eligible for the vaccine, and the state department of health anticipates opening up eligibility to all adults by early May, “if not sooner,” a spokeswoman said.
“I want to ask everyone, when it’s your turn, get a shot,” Mr. Hutchinson said at a news briefing this week. “Get that shot in your arm, because it helps our entire state to completely move out of this pandemic and so we need everybody to get vaccinated.”
At the news conference, Mr. Hutchinson said there were parts of the state where eligible residents were still unable to book an appointment, particularly in the northwest and several urban areas. Additionally, not all inmates, who are included in the list of those already eligible, have been vaccinated, he said.
“But stay tuned,” Mr. Hutchinson said, adding that he expected the state to expand eligibility to all adults “in the near future.”
In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news briefing this week that other states were setting dates based on allocation projections coming from the federal government. But Mr. Cuomo said he wanted “to make sure that the allocation projections that we’re getting from the feds are right” before setting a specific date for eligibility expansion.
“I would rather get the specific allocation number and then tell the people of the state,” Mr. Cuomo said, “so we don’t have to change advice and we don’t create pandemonium for the scheduling operation.”
When the pandemic began, the nation’s governors suited up for a new role as state bodyguards, issuing emergency orders to shutter schools, close cinemas and ban indoor dining in an effort to curb a mushrooming threat.
But not everyone likes killjoys, no matter how well-intentioned.
Now, state legislatures — saying the governors have gone too far — are churning out laws aimed at reining in the power of their executives to respond to the pandemic and emergencies like it.
A Kansas bill that became law this week requires Gov. Laura Kelly to suspend all emergency orders and give legislators the option to void any that she reissues. Mask mandates are likely to be among the first to fall. Ohio legislators overrode Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto this week, limiting his powers to make emergency declarations. Utah lawmakers voted for an April 10 end to mask requirements and to rein in powers of the governor and state health officials to deal with crises; the bill became law on Wednesday.
Those are but some of the 300-odd proposals to curb governors’ emergency powers that have won approval or are awaiting action in State House and Senate chambers — although most will, as usual, be winnowed out in committee and never come to a vote.
All but a handful have been written by Republicans, many of whom have regarded restrictions from the start as bad for business and infringements on personal freedom. If that suggests that the issue of emergency power is partisan, however, that’s not entirely true: Legislation takes aim at the powers wielded by governors of both parties.
A list of bills by the National Conference of State Legislators shows that the gamut of the proposals is both broad and inventive. An Arkansas state senator wanted fines for violating coronavirus restrictions refunded to violators. Lawmakers in six states, including Georgia and Oregon, want to stop governors from imposing limits on attendance at church services. A measure in Maine would circumvent restrictions on businesses by declaring all businesses to be essential in any emergency.
Most proposals, however, are more straightforward attempts to give lawmakers a say, often by limiting the duration of emergency declarations and requiring legislative approval to extend them. The nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission is reviewing state emergency statutes to see if they need updating in light of the coronavirus crisis. But the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative pro-business group that has spent years cultivating ties with state legislators, has beaten them to the punch, circulating a so-called model law that is the basis for many state proposals.
Some experts call that a mistake. “The time for legislatures to address emergency declarations isn’t in the middle of an emergency, but before or after one,” said Jill Krueger, the director of the northern region of the Network for Public Health Law, in Edina, Minn.
Indeed, practically every state has at least one measure targeting a governor, either in a legislative committee or in the lawbooks.
The Republican governor of Indiana, Eric J. Holcomb, has backed more lenient coronavirus restrictions than have governors of some neighboring states, giving businesses more generous occupancy limits based on the severity of Covid-19 outbreaks in each county. That did not stop the Republican-controlled legislature from filing 21 bills aimed at loosening his emergency powers, the most of any state surveyed by the Conference of State Legislatures, including a resolution calling for the statewide emergency to be scrapped immediately.
The resolution appeared to be gathering serious momentum until Tuesday, when the governor sought to address critics by lifting a statewide mask mandate and turning business regulations over to local governments.
Both actions go well beyond the easing of restrictions taken in most other states that have relaxed regulations, although local governments retain the right to impose stiffer rules.
“His middle-of-the-road approach has resonated with people,” said Andrew Downs, an associate professor and expert on Indiana politics at Purdue University-Fort Wayne. That said, he added, “people out on the extreme are upset with him, and they recognized the need to recapture some of the power the governor has been using.”
The patients began arriving at hospitals in Porto Alegre far sicker and younger than before. Funeral homes were experiencing a steady uptick in business, while exhausted doctors and nurses pleaded in February for a lockdown to save lives.
But Sebastião Melo, Porto Alegre’s mayor, argued there was a greater imperative.
“Put your life on the line so that we can save the economy,” Mr. Melo appealed to his constituents in late February.
Now Porto Alegre, a prosperous city in southern Brazil, is at the heart of a stunning breakdown of the country’s health care system — a crisis foretold.
More than a year into the pandemic, deaths in Brazil are at their peak and highly contagious variants of the coronavirus are sweeping the nation, enabled by political dysfunction, widespread complacency and conspiracy theories. The country, whose leader, President Jair Bolsonaro, has played down the threat of the virus, is now reporting more new cases and deaths per day than any other country in the world.
“We have never seen a failure of the health system of this magnitude,” said Ana de Lemos, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders in Brazil. “And we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Wednesday, the country surpassed 300,000 Covid-19 deaths, with roughly 125 Brazilians succumbing to the disease every hour. Health officials in public and private hospitals were scrambling to expand critical care units, stock up on dwindling supplies of oxygen and procure scarce intubation sedatives that are being sold at an exponential markup..
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