The Coronavirus Weekly Update summarizes major changes due to the coronavirus pandemic in politics, government, and elections. Today, you will find updates on the following topics, with comparisons to our previous edition released on July 16:
- Stay-at-home orders
- Federal responses
- Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- Election changes
- Ballot measure changes
- School closures and reopenings
- Travel restrictions
- State legislation
- State legislative sessions
- State courts
- Prison policies
- Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Diagnosed or quarantined public officials
For daily news on state reopening plans and which industries and activities are permitted across the country, subscribe to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery.
State stay-at-home orders
As of July 23, stay-at-home orders have ended in 41 states. Nineteen of those states have Republican governors and 22 have Democratic governors (including Wisconsin, where the state supreme court invalidated the stay-at-home order).
California and New Mexico, both of which have a Democratic governor, are the only remaining states with an active stay-at-home order.
The United States held midterm elections as scheduled during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. More than 50 million people perished from the disease worldwide, including about 675,000 in the U.S., making it one of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history. Each week, we’ll look back at a story from the 1918 elections to see how America met the challenges of holding elections during a national health emergency.
On Oct. 30, The Birmingham News reported that Alabama schools would be reopening soon, after having been closed for a number of weeks in response to the influenza pandemic.
“Practically all schools of the State will reopen Monday after having been closed for several weeks on account of the influenza epidemic, according to State Superintendent of Education Spright Dowell, who passed through Birmingham Wednesday en route to Colbert County.
Mr. Dowel said that the influenza had caused closing of all schools in the State except in four or five counties. However, no time would be lost as the teachers have been doing their State reading circle work. He gave several different ways in which the time would be made up by the pupils. One of the most practical, he suggested, would be to teach one hour later in the afternoons, do some work on Saturday and cut the holiday time down usually taken for Christmas. One county, he said, instead of taking 10 days for Christmas holidays as is the custom, would only take two days this year.”
- On July 22, Pharmaceutical company Pfizer and biotechnology company BioNTech announced they had entered into a $1.95 billion deal with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense to supply 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Americans by the end of 2020 if their vaccines prove safe and effective.
- On July 20, President Donald Trump (R) announced he would resume his daily coronavirus briefings. He discontinued the briefings in late April.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 516 lawsuits, in 47 states, dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 202 of those lawsuits.
- Since July 16, we have added 83 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional 27 court orders and/or settlements.
- Ballotpedia has separately followed another 142 lawsuits, in 39 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 76 of those lawsuits.
Here are two lawsuits that have either garnered significant national media attention or involve major advocacy groups.
- Kemp v. Bottoms: On July 16, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and members of the Atlanta City Council, seeking to have the Superior Court of Fulton County invalidate and prohibit enforcement of local orders related to COVID-19. The local orders mandate that people wear face coverings inside all businesses and restrict the number of individuals who can congregate on city property, exceeding current state requirements. Kemp’s complaint argues Atlanta “may only exercise the powers delegated to it by the state, and Mayor Bottoms’ attempts to exercise an undelegated power against the state are” beyond her legal authority. Kemp also claims Georgia law provides him “the power to suspend municipal orders that are contradictory to any state law or to his executive orders.” Kemp has asked the court to invalidate the orders and prohibit Bottoms from making press statements indicating she has the authority to impose measures beyond those ordered by the governor. Bottoms responded to the suit on Twitter: “3104 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106k who have tested positive for COVID-19,” adding that “[a] better use of taxpayer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing.” The case was originally assigned to Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe, who later recused herself and canceled a hearing scheduled for the morning of July 21
- Pritzker v. Board of Education of Hutsonville CUSD #1: On July 16, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court against three schools that announced their refusal to comply with mandatory COVID-19 health and safety protocols for students and faculty returning to the classroom in the fall. At issue are Executive Order 2020-05, which closed all schools across the state, and Executive Orders 2020-40 and 2020-44, which allow schools to resume in-person instruction subject to Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) health directives. IDPH and ISBE guidance says public and nonpublic schools must implement certain health and safety measures before reopening. This includes a requirement that individuals in school facilities wear face coverings. Pritzker’s suit comes after the defendants, a public school district and two private schools, told the state they would not abide by the guidance, arguing it “is unlawful, is arbitrary and unreasonable, and was issued without legal authority.” Pritzker countered in his complaint that the Illinois Constitution and the Emergency Management Act give him emergency powers during disasters, and are the legal basis for his school guidance. Pritzker’s suit seeks a judicial declaration confirming the legality of his executive orders and the reopening guidance, as well as a court order requiring the three schools to comply with the orders and guidance.
- Twenty states have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- No new states have postponed elections since July 16.
- Eighteen states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
- One state has made candidate filing modifications since July 16.
- Thirty-nine states have made modifications to their voting procedures.
- Three states have made voting procedure modifications since July 16.
- Political parties in 19 states have made modifications to party events on a statewide basis.
- No state parties have made modifications to party events since July 16.
- Alabama: On July 17, Secretary of State John Merrill (R) issued an emergency rule allowing any qualified voter to cast an absentee ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.
- California: On July 17, the California Supreme Court ordered that the constitutional and statutory deadlines for congressional, state legislative, and Board of Equalization redistricting be extended by at least four months to account for anticipated delays in receiving data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Iowa: On July 17, Secretary of State Paul Pate (R) announced that absentee ballot application forms would be sent automatically to all active registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
- Maryland: On July 20, Judge Richard Bennett, of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, ordered that the nomination petition signature requirement for unaffiliated candidates be reduced by 50 percent.
- North Carolina: On July 17, Karen Brinson Bell, the executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections, issued an emergency order mandating a number of modifications to in-person voting in the Nov. 3 general election.
- Texas: On July 18, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit blocked a district court ruling that had allowed the Republican Party of Texas to proceed as planned with its in-person state convention. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling effectively reinstated the cancellation of the convention issued by Houston officials on July 8.
Ballot measure changes
- At least 18 lawsuits were filed in 13 states seeking court orders suspending or changing signature requirements and deadlines.
- Rulings or settlements have been issued in all 18 cases. Appeals, however, are pending in a number of cases.
- Ballotpedia has tracked 26 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
- Seven states and D.C. changed ballot measure procedures through executive orders or legislative action.
- At least four initiative campaigns initially targeting 2020 reported they would shift their focus to 2022.
School closures and reopenings
- In March and April, 48 states closed public schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Those states accounted for 99.4% of the nation’s 50.6 million public school students. Montana and Wyoming did not require in-person instruction for the year. Montana schools were allowed to reopen on May 7 and Wyoming schools were allowed to reopen on May 15.
- Seven states (Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, and Wyoming) have reopened their campuses for students and staff.
- No new states have reopened campuses since July 16.
- Thirteen states have released reopening guidance and also announced a scheduled reopening.
- No new states have done so since July 16.
- One state has announced public schools will reopen in the fall but have not released reopening guidance.
- No new states have made reopening announcements since July 16.
- Officials in 20 other states have released guidance for reopening schools to in-person instruction, but have not indicated when or whether they plan to do so.
- Three new states have released guidance for reopening schools since July 16.
- California – On July 17, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced that counties on the state’s coronavirus watch list would begin the public school year with online education only. As of July 20, 33 of the state’s 58 counties were on the watch list, which is based on new infections per capita, test positivity rate, and hospitalization rate.
- Colorado – On July 20, the Colorado Department of Education released guidance for reopening public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidelines contain separate criteria for elementary schools and secondary schools. Decisions about public school start dates and remote learning would be left to local districts.
- Iowa – On July 17, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) ordered that students in public and accredited nonpublic schools spend at least half of their schooling in-person. She said districts could seek waivers to the requirement from the state Department of Education. Des Moines, the state’s largest district, had previously announced one day of in-person instruction for students each week.
- Kansas – The Kansas State Board of Education voted 5-5 on Gov. Laura Kelly’s (D) executive order delaying the start of the public school year from Aug. 10 until Sept. 9. The order required board approval before taking effect, so the tie vote effectively cancels the governor’s executive order.
- Maryland – Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that public schools had until Aug. 14 to submit reopening plans to the state board of education. Schools will be allowed to open in-person so long as they follow specific CDC and state health guidelines and meet state-approved benchmarks.
- Pennsylvania – Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) administration released updated guidance for reopening public schools. The plan requires districts and charter schools to develop reopening plans for approval by the school’s governing body. Each plan must be posted on the school’s website before in-person operations resume.
- Governors or state agencies in 24 states issued executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors. At least 13 of those orders have been rescinded.
- Since July 16, four states have modified their travel restrictions.
- Kentucky – Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued a travel advisory on July 20 requesting visitors from nine states self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Officials said the advisory was not a requirement. The nine states in the advisory are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.
- Connecticut, New Jersey, New York – Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced on July 21 that 10 additional states had been added to their joint travel advisory. Travelers from Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington will need to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. Minnesota was removed from the list, bringing the total to 31.
- Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine (R) issued a travel advisory on July 22 that asks travelers from states reporting positive coronavirus testing rates of 15% or higher to self-quarantine for 14 days. DeWine said the advisory was not a mandate. The states affected by the advisory are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide
- Since July 16, one state court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials.
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level
- North Carolina – On July 20, North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley extended emergency directives that included the suspension of jury trials for another 30 days.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Twenty-one states have current moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
- Since July 16, two states extended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
- Twenty-one states have ended moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
- One has current local moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
- Seven states did not issue a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on the state or local level.
- Arizona – Gov. Doug Ducey (R) extended a moratorium on residential evictions through Oct. 31. The moratorium had been scheduled to expire on July 22.
- Massachusetts – On July 21, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) extended the statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures an additional 60 days. The moratorium was set to expire on Oct. 17.
State legislative responses
- To date, 2,632 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- We have tracked 68 additional bills since July 16.
- Of these, 365 significant bills have been enacted into law, 14 percent of the total number that has been introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.
- We have tracked 16 additional significant bills since July 16 (also omitting ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business).
State legislative session changes
- Five state legislatures have suspended their sessions. All of those have since reconvened.
- One legislature that had suspended its session has reconvened since July 16.
- Thirty-eight legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
- Two legislatures have adjourned regular or special sessions since July 16.
- Six state legislatures are in regular session.
- One state legislature is in special session.
- One legislature has convened a special session since July 16.
Officials Diagnosed with Coronavirus
- Eight members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Forty-three federal officials quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
- Four state-level incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
- Sixty-two state-level incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19
- Seventy-four state-level incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
- At least two local incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
- At least 20 local incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- At least 26 local incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
Since July 16, one city councilmember and three state representatives have tested positive for coronavirus.
- Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who represents District 7 on the St. Petersburg City Council in Florida, announced she tested positive for COVID-19 on July 14.
- Mississippi State Rep. John Read (R) revealed on July 16 that Rep. Manly Barton (R), who represents District 109, was hospitalized due to COVID-19.
- Mississippi State Rep. Trey Lamar (R), who represents District 8, confirmed on July 5 he had tested positive for coronavirus.
- Kentucky State Senator Max Wise (R), who represents District 16, announced on July 20 he had tested positive for coronavirus.
- Florida State Rep. Randy Fine (R), who represents District 53, announced on July 22 he had tested positive for COVID-19.