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A woman holds an anti-mask and vaccine placard outside a meeting of the Volusia County School Board in Deland, Florida. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Republican lawmakers in more than half of U.S. states have weakened state or local officials' authority to implement policies to protect the public against the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, AP and Kaiser Health News report.

The big picture: Since the coronavirus pandemic began, lawmakers in all 50 states have introduced bills to curb state and local officials' public health authority, a KHN review found.

State of play: The review found that 26 states have passed such laws, and in three additional states, executive orders, ballot initiatives or state Supreme Court rulings have limited public health authority, per AP.

  • In at least 16 states, lawmakers have limited public health officials' powers to mandate masks, quarantines or isolation.
  • At least 17 states have passed bills banning vaccine passports or mandates.
  • At least nine states have laws banning or limiting mask mandates. In another five, mandates are limited by executive orders.

Zoom in: In Arkansas, the state legislature passed a bill banning mask mandates — a measure Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said he regrets signing into law.

  • In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed an executive order banning mask mandates in schools, even as coronavirus cases increased in the state over the summer. Many school districts have defied the order.
  • Idaho county commissioners, most of whom do not have a health background, can veto county public health requirements, per AP.

What they're saying: "We really could see more people sick, hurt, hospitalized or even die, depending on the extremity of the legislation and curtailing of the authority," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told AP and KHN.

The other side: Those in favor of the limits argue they are "a necessary check on executive powers," AP writes, citing Republican lawmakers.

Go deeper

The Omicron wave begins

Expand chart
Note: Maryland is unable to report new cases due to a technical issue; Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

U.S. coronavirus cases rose by 27% over the last two weeks as the Omicron variant quickly became dominant, although the rise was unevenly distributed around the country.

Why it matters: The spike in cases in cities like New York and D.C. are likely a preview of what will soon hit other parts of the country.

Updated Dec 28, 2021 - Economy & Business

Omicron surge and storms disrupt air travel for 4th straight day

Photo: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Another 1,000 flights were canceled in the U.S. on Monday due to COVID-19 outbreaks among crews for a fourth straight day, with storms in the Pacific Northwest adding to the chaos, AP reports.

Why it matters: Thousands of customers have been affected by the latest pandemic-driven travel disruptions since Christmas Eve, with airlines including United blaming a "nationwide spike in Omicron cases" in recent days.

Ohio GOP Gov. Mike DeWine signs abortion bill into law

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo: Justin Merriman/Getty Images

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has signed a bill into law that imposes criminal penalties on doctors who don't give medical care in the rare case of a baby born alive after an abortion attempt.

Details: The bill also requires doctors to report such circumstances.