Delta variant sweeps through states that dialed back health powers

In Texas, where Covid hospitalizations are up 30 percent and deaths up 10 percent over the past week, Gov. Greg Abbott recently barred counties, cities and school districts from requiring masks. Montana did the same for vaccine and mask mandates, while letting local officials overrule health department orders. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state accounts for one in five of new U.S. infections, asserted power to nix local health orders if he concludes they infringe on individual rights.

Many conservative lawmakers spent the first half of the year restricting public health powers such as mask requirements or indoor capacity limits — measures that blunted Covid’s impact when it emerged in the U.S. but quickly became the scorn of the right. Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Utah have in recent months also enacted new laws limiting local authority over the Covid response or any future health emergency…

That’s left an increasingly fractured response, with some cities defying state bans and certain wary businesses stipulating that returning workers provide proof of vaccination. Meanwhile, the bans threaten longstanding public health practices that extend beyond the pandemic, from shutting down restaurants that have foodborne illnesses to vaccinating children against diseases that took decades to bring under control.