Have you ever wondered who is going to be running the state, the county, or the town where you live during a pandemic? I will give you a hint, but if you lived through the 2020 pandemic in the United States you should already know the answer.
It is not someone you voted to elect. In fact, the individual is most likely someone that you have never even heard of before.
During a public health emergency like the 2020 pandemic, it is not the governor of your state or the local county commissioners or the mayor who will dictate very intricate details of your daily life.
Nope. It is the state health department director, and his or her counterparts at the county and municipal levels.
Once a public health emergency is declared by the federal or state government, the powers that health directors possess are on par with those of a king, queen – or Third World dictator.
A host of federal acts enable state and federal health officials to quickly take control of the country in a myriad of ways for an undetermined amount of time.
If one of your greatest concerns when you first started prepping involved a person showing up where you live smiling and saying, “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help”, the fact that an unelected health director can essentially put you under martial law without actually having martial law declared, is extremely disconcerting.
Before the 2020 pandemic, many preppers thought FEMA would be the gigantic governmental entity that would attempt to take control during or after a disaster.
Sadly, many of us thought FEMA in charge would be the worst case scenario. But, we were wrong.
Not only do public health directors have control over our very movements, but by extension, they also have power over both our economy and our health.
During the pandemic, unprecedented steps were taken to close businesses, alter the way so-called “essential” businesses were allowed to operate, doctors and dentists were prohibited from seeing patients unless their illnesses and injuries were deemed to also be of an emergency nature.
My husband had undergone an outpatient and already scheduled skin cancer surgery during the early days of the pandemic. He was supposed to go back and have his 13 stitches removed two weeks later.
Because of the health director order, the removal of stitches was not deemed important enough to allow the appointment to go on as scheduled. In our state, doctor’s were not allowed to use their services for non-emergency visits for another four weeks.
If one of our survival tribe members who was also on my husband’s fire department had not also had medic training and offered to remove the stitches, they would have grown into the skin and have had to been dug out by the doctor.
This would have likely caused a fresh wound that would have required more stitches, possible infection, and nearly definite scarring on the side of his face.
Who Are State Health Officials?
They are merely appointees by the government. You can spend hours upon hours researching online for a specific set of educational and professional attributes required to become a state health director, and not find any.
A state health director is at least a doctor, right? Nope.
In my state of Ohio, there is now a person with a Dr. in front of their name in the position, but the previous two health directors have been an attorney and a marketing director.
If the pandemic had occurred only a year ago, it would have been a marketing director who had the power to force us to remain in our homes, or been a part of our governor’s failed attempt to mandate that we all wear masks in public.
That tidbit of information definitely does not help me sleep well at night.
What do you know about the state health director in your state? I thoroughly researched the one in mine, and was left rather unimpressed.
She is definitely an intelligent woman, probably a nice one too, and worked hard to earn her degrees after coming from extremely humble beginnings, but that does not mean I want her effectively running our state and my life.
How Does a Health Director Take Control of a State?
He or she does not need to be sneaky or even stealthy to suddenly rip control away from a governor.
Once a governmental entity declares a state or emergency – or in some cases even before an official declaration is made, the scales of power begin to shift.
State officials have expansive power when it comes to responding to emergency situations even without an emergency declaration being formalized.
A state health director statutory authority includes a general yet broad ability to order quarantine, investigate the cause of the disease, and to “abate nuisances,” the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials notes.
The powers a state health director already has before a state of emergency is declared permit them to launch initial measures of response.
He or she can identify wether or not authorities have the capability to respond to the emergency without the need to formalize a declaration of emergency.
State Of Emergency Types
Whether or not the public health issue reaches the level to justify a state of emergency response or not relies upon a series of conditions generally outlined by state statute. These required conditions are rather broad, bordering on vague in nature.
Typically, governors can declare a natural disaster or state of emergency in instances of disease epidemics and other types of “public health emergencies.”
A state can have more than one public health emergency or disaster declared at the same time.
During a state of emergency, both the public and the private sector can be controlled with the stroke of a pen, be either an elected official acting upon the recommendation of a public health director or by the director himself, in many circumstances.
How Are State Emergencies Declared?
The actual declaration process can vary slightly to even greatly by state.
Roughly speaking, a governor typically holds the power to declare a public health or disaster state of emergency upon making such a declaration via an executive order.
The state of emergency declaration executive order addresses the following:
- Effective date of the declaration.
- Duration of the declaration – which can then be expanded multiple times as it was during the 2020 pandemic. In some states, legislative approval may be required to issue an extension.
- Geographic area covered by the declaration – a city, county, region, or entire state.
- Conditions that prompted the emergency.
- What agency or agencies that are leading the public response effort.
- The waiving of any state regulations and laws during the emergency.
Actions That Are Triggered Once A State Of Emergency Is Declared
The new authority and overall scope of power that is granted to the public health director or other authorities in the state can generally include the following:
- Activate an incident command system and emergency operations center.
- Fund, equipment, personnel, and supplies can be ordered deployed.
- Emergency stockpiles can also be ordered to be deployed.
- Additional rules, statutes, and regulations may be waived during the emergency response and containment period.
- Statutory immunity and liability protections for the officials and personnel involved in the emergency response can be activated.
- A “streamlining” of the typical state administration procedures, like the ones that typically govern procurement, are also enacted after a state of emergency is declared.
Federal State of Emergency Declaration
Even when a state of emergency is declared at the federal level, states can also make such a declaration on their own to expand upon their planned response. Federal laws, such as the Stafford Act and the National Emergencies Act.
Federal law related to emergency declaration allows assistance to states and municipalities to occur even without a formal declaration being issued.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary is one of the federal authorities working in the public health field that is also allowed to declare an emergency.
During the 2020 pandemic, the HHS used the authority of the agency to invoke their federal powers to do what was publicly deemed the prevention of “cascading public health, economic, national security and societal consequences.”
The HHS is not the only agency where public health officials maintain a substantial amount of power over the public servants we elected, our lives, and the economy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also enjoys vastly enhanced authority during a declared health emergency.
CDC health officials have the ability to order quarantine for not just individuals (American or foreign) who attempt to enter the country during a declared public emergency, but also can limit or prohibit the traveling across state lines.
Folks who thought only the person elected president of the United States could declare a public health emergency at the federal level and direct the response, thought wrong.
There has never been a time in America where a president was opposed to declaring a national emergency and the HHS secretary did so anyway.
But, simply because that has not happened does not mean it will not. Power can quickly and easily go to the head of some public officials. Never before in history did federal and state health officials ever have such authority and garner so much of the limelight as they did during the 2020 pandemic.
Federal Acts That Grant Extraordinary Power To Public Health Officials
Could a power hungry health official, one that was not appointed by a current president and is seething with hatred for the individual (as some FBI and intelligence community personnel did for President Donald Trump) declare a public emergency and attempt to take control of both Americans and the United States economy?
Unless and until existing acts, like sections 311 and 301 of the Public Health Service Act are changed, it sure seems like a scenario which could. The HHS Secretary also maintains vast powers under the Social Security Act Section 1135.
The Public Health Service Act also entitles the HHS Secretary to make an official determination on whether or not a public health emergency exists in cases of a disease, disorder, or bioterrorist attacks.
The HHS secretary holds the authority to “take such as may be appropriate” to address the public health emergency once one has officially been declared. These same powers allow the federal health officials to direct taxpayer money from the Public Health Emergency Fund.
The federal public health emergency order remains effective until the HHS secretary declares it over or 90 days – whichever comes first. But, the federal public health official can also decide that the threat still exists and renew the emergency order for additional 90 day periods.
The Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 issues the HHS Secretary the authority to direct temporary reassignment of local and state health department personnel to address public health needs, if requested to do so by a governor.
The Deployment of Public Health Service statutes can be used during times either of a public health emergency or war, which the president can use to “promote public interest” and issue an executive order that commissions the public health service corps to be used as a military service.
Once this powerful tool is used, the public health services commissioned corps effectively constitute a “branch of the and naval forces.”
The HHS Secretary and CDC head are not the only public health officials who are granted super-powers during a declared public health emergency.
The 1135 Waivers grant the United States Surgeon General the ability to both create and enforce regulations that in his or her judgment are needed to thwart the “introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases” from foreign countries into America – or from one state into another state.
The Surgeon General can use his or her judgment when it comes to the inspection, disinfection, fumigation, destruction of animals, or “articles” that are contaminated or infected.
Federal statutes also allow for the “apprehension and examination” of any person who is “reasonably believed” to be infected.
After the individual is examined, he or she can be detained “for a time” if determined to be infected in a “manner as may be reasonably necessary.”
Strategic National Stockpile
One of the powers held jointly by HHS, the CDC, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security is the maintenance of the Strategic National Stockpile and Security.
The position of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the HHS was created via the Pandmeic All Hazards Preparedness Act. This public health official is responsible for coordinating the stockpile.
While this federal statute is not one that should cause concern about government overreach or rights infringement, it is still incredibly important to learn more about.
During the 2020 pandemic, the public health officials in charge of maintaining the stockpile of personal protection equipment, biological products, medical devices like respirators, prescription drugs, and vaccines failed epically to live up to their mandate to ensure these vital supplies were ready to address a nationwide public health crisis.
Even though local, state, and federal agencies, hospitals, and first responders have been training and engaging in mock mass casualty disasters since the terror attacks of 9/11 in 2001 (including biological terror attacks), there simply were not nearly enough to go around.
Until the 2020 pandemic occurred, most Americans likely did not know that nearly none of the key ingredients to make antibiotics are actually still made in the United States. As of this writing, America did not have the ability to even make penicillin anymore.
In 2019, the inability to make our own antibiotics was deemed a “strategic vulnerability” by retired Brigadier General John Adams.
The defense community’s concerns that China could just stop shipping medications, the ingredients to make them, or personal protection equipment to the United States nearly happened during the pandemic. Concerns that China could weaponize our medications amplified during this time as well.
The level of preparedness these public health officials allowed the Strategic National Stockpile to sink too should have caused their immediate removal from their respective agencies.
But, in the midst of the first nationwide pandemic in more than 100 years, these supposed experts were allowed to remain in place – and to help scramble for the masks, gloves, and respirators needed if their predictions of hospitalizations and deaths were accurate – thankfully their figures were way off.
To recap, the men and women in charge of preparing for a pandemic failed to make sure the nation was prepared to deal with one, yet still held the power to control how both the government responded and decide how we could live our lives as the robust economy crumbled for more than a month.
Public Readiness aAnd Emergency Preparedness Act of 2005 – PREP
This federal statute grants the HHS Secretary to issue an immunity declaration in relation to tort liability and loss claims in incidents that were not caused by acts “willful conduct” that relate to the “administration or use of countermeasures to diseases, threats, and conditions” the public health official determined to cause a credible or present risk of a future health emergency.
This immunity declaration applies to any individuals or entities involved in testing, manufacture, distribution, and the administration of pandemic countermeasures – explicitly technology and products designed to enhance the public response measures.
The HHS Secretary’s Countermeasures Covered By The Immunity Declaration Include:
- The time period – duration of the public health emergency declaration
- The population of people receiving the response countermeasures.
- Limitations placed on distribution of the response measures.
- The category of health threats, diseases, and conditions the response measures are recommended to address.
- Limitations on any geographic area for which immunity has been deemed in effect.
- Any additional individuals the HHS Secretary has selected as qualified to dispense, prescribe,and administer the public health emergency response measures.
Governors in many, if not all, states kowtowed to what their state health directors told them to do during the 2020 pandemic.
Doing so not only coincided with the CDC recommendations being uttered at the federal level, but offered them cover with voters. Allowing – or perhaps tossing, the reins to someone else, a person supposedly well-versed in public health did not bode well at all for every governor.
“I will not comply” protests popped up in towns large and small all over the country.
Americans were unwilling to relinquish their Constitutional rights to anyone, be it a career politician governor or an appointed public health director they could not have picked out of a crowd of three before the 2020 pandemic began.
Public health officials may just be the most powerful individuals in the state and the country, and they never even had to bother with trying to earn your vote before sitting in a position of power over your life or the economy.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.