Tagcoronavirus debate

A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, August 3-7, 2020

Although the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020, it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened August 3-7, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here

Monday, August 3, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) allowed high school football and volleyball practices to resume.
    • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said that private and religious schools could choose when to reopen. Hogan also issued an emergency order preventing county officials from requiring such schools to remain closed after Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles prohibited private schools in the area from resuming in-person classes. 
  • Election changes:
    • Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signed AB4 into law, directing election officials to distribute mail-in ballots automatically to all active registered voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
    • Minnesota Second Judicial District Judge Sara Grewing approved a consent decree between the plaintiffs and the state defendants in LaRose v. Simon, a lawsuit that challenged state election law. Under the terms of the consent decree, state election officials agreed to waive the witness requirement for mail-in ballots cast in the Nov. 3 general election. The state also agreed to count all mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 and received by official county canvassing dates.
  • Federal government responses:
    • President Donald Trump (R) signed an executive order that made permanent certain regulatory changes expanding telehealth services, especially in rural areas
  • Mask requirements:
    • Maryland Gov. Hogan expanded the statewide mask mandate to require everyone older than five to wear masks in all indoor public spaces, including churches, gyms, and stores. The mandate originally required masks only in retail, food service businesses, and public transit.
    • Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) modified the mask mandate for schools to allow students to remove masks in a classroom if they could maintain three to six feet of distance from other people.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • The Alabama Department of Public Health released an 85-page school reopening toolkit that contained recommendations and guidelines for school districts to use in their reopening plans.
  • State court changes:
    • In Colorado, jury trials were allowed to resume on a limited basis so long as a Chief Judge of a judicial district determined the jury pool could be safely assembled consistent with health directives and executive orders.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an order requiring the Michigan State Police and state departments to prioritize enforcement of her COVID-19 orders. She also ordered licensing agencies to consider license suspensions for individuals who violated her orders.
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Rhode Island had been added to the tristate quarantine list, requiring visitors from that state to quarantine for 14 days upon entering New Jersey, Connecticut, or New York. The governors removed Delaware and Washington D.C. from the list.
  • Federal government responses:
    • The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense announced a $2.1 billion deal with French pharmaceutical company Sanofi and British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to develop and manufacture up to 100 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine for U.S. use.
    • President Trump announced the federal government would continue to fund the cost of National Guard units deployed to states through the end of the year, though at a lower level than before. Beginning Aug. 21, Trump said the federal government would reduce its level of funding for National Guard units assisting states with their coronavirus responses from 100% to 75% for most states.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • Delaware Gov. John Carney (D) announced public schools could reopen with a combination of in-person and remote learning in September. 
    • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) mandated that all students and teachers wear masks on school property. He delayed school reopenings in eight counties to Aug. 17. Previously, the counties had been allowed to set their own start dates for the academic year.
    • Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine (R) announced that all K-12 students would be required to wear face coverings in public schools.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced on Aug. 5 that the state would stay in Phase 2 of reopening for five more weeks.
  • Election changes:
    • The parties in League of Women Voters of Virginia v. Virginia State Board of Elections reached a settlement providing for the suspension of the absentee ballots witness requirement in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Mask requirements:
    • Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) issued an order requiring individuals to wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when social distancing was not possible.
    • South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) issued an order requiring people to wear masks in restaurants, in state government buildings, and at large gathering venues and events like movie theaters, festivals, auditoriums, and concerts.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced a new metric for determining if schools could reopen to in-person instruction. She said schools in any city or town with more than 100 positive cases per 100,000 residents would be prohibited from fully reopening to in-person instruction.

Thursday, August 6, 2020 

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced a phased reopening plan for long-term care facilities. The plan said facilities could submit an application to the state to begin the reopening process on Aug. 12. The plan called for easing restrictions on visitations as facilities move through the phases of reopening. 
  • Election changes:
    • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed SB 423 into law, authorizing counties to consolidate polling places in the Nov. 3 general election, among other modifications to administrative procedures.
    • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) issued a directive permitting counties to conduct the Nov. 3 general election entirely by mail. Bullock also authorized counties to expand early voting opportunities for the general election.
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) rescinded the executive order requiring travelers from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
    • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) issued an executive order Aug. 6 updating the state’s quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers and returning residents. The new order exempted New Mexico residents who left the state to seek medical care or who left the state for less than 24 hours as part of their parenting responsibilities.
  • Mask requirements:
    • Michigan Gov. Whitmer issued an executive order requiring children over the age of two and all employees to wear face masks at Michigan camps and childcare centers.

Friday, August 7, 2020

  • Election changes:
    • Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson issued an executive order extending absentee ballot eligibility to all voters in the Nov. 3 general election “who conclude their attendance at the polls may be a risk to their health or the health of others due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The order formalized a policy Hutchinson and Secretary of State John Thurston (R) announced on July 2.
  • Eviction and foreclosure policies
    • In a 5-3 ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court granted Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) request to extend an eviction moratorium. The moratorium was set to last through September 7.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • California Gov. Newsom released reopening guidance for colleges and universities. The guidance called for requiring students and staff to wear masks in all indoor public spaces. In counties on the state’s monitoring list, the guidance said only courses like labs and studio arts would be allowed to take place in-person.

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery

A look back at government responses to the coronavirus pandemic, July 27-31, 2020

Although the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020, it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. In subsequent months, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened July 27-31, 2020. To read more of our past coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, click here

Monday, July 27, 2020

  • Travel restrictions:
    • As part of Phase Two of D.C.’s reopening plan, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) ordered non-essential travelers from high-risk states to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the city. Bowser defined “high-risk states” as areas where the seven-day moving average of daily new COVID-19 case rate was 10 or more per 100,000 persons.
  • Election changes:
    • West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) announced that all voters “concerned about their health and safety because of COVID-19” would be eligible to vote absentee in the Nov. 3 general election.
    • Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued a proclamation extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 general election by six days. Originally scheduled to begin on Oct. 19, the proclamation moved early voting to Oct. 13.
  • Mask requirements:
    • Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s (R) face-covering order went into effect. The order required anyone eight or older to wear a face mask in indoor public spaces, commercial businesses, transportation services, and in outdoor public spaces when social distancing is not possible. He issued the order on July 24.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education signed an agreement with the state’s teachers unions to reduce the length of the 2020-2021 school year from 180 days to 170 days.
  • State court changes:
    • The Idaho Supreme Court delayed the resumption of criminal jury trials until Sept. 14 and civil jury trials until Dec. 1.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) closed bars and limited restaurant capacity to 25% for two weeks. Beshear also asked schools to avoid reopening for in-person instruction until the third week of August. 
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that Illinois, Kentucky Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico had been added to the joint travel advisory, bringing the number of states on the list to 37.
  • Election changes:
    • U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire Judge Joseph Laplante ordered that nomination petition signature requirements for the Libertarian Party’s candidates in New Hampshire’s general election be reduced by 35 percent. In his ruling, Laplante said he reduced the signature requirements because the risk of contracting COVID-19 and Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) stay-at-home order imposed a burden on the Libertarian Party’s right to access the ballot.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) announced that schools would not reopen until Sept. 8, when school districts could decide whether to return students to physical classrooms or offer distance learning. 
    • Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) ordered all K-12 students and staff to wear a mask in school at all times. The directive also imposed social distancing guidelines of three feet for preschools through middle schools, and six feet for high schools.
    • Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced metrics that would guide school reopening decisions. Brown said counties must have 10 or fewer coronavirus cases per 100,000 people and a 7-day positivity rate of 5% or less for three consecutive weeks before in-person and hybrid instruction could resume. Brown also said the state must have a positivity rate of 5% or less for three consecutive weeks before any in-person or hybrid instruction could resume.
    • Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) released guidelines for reopening schools. The recommendations covered testing and contact tracing, immunizations, and resources necessary for returning students to classrooms or teaching remotely.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) extended Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan through August 28. Raimondo also reduced gathering limits from 25 people to 15.
    • Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) announced that he was extending three public health orders passed on June 15 that deal with limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and school reopenings. The order continued to limit indoor gatherings to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 250 people. The school reopening order included a modification requiring teachers and students to wear masks indoors and outdoors at school when social distancing wasn’t feasible.
  • Travel restrictions:
    • Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued a travel advisory asking Maryland residents to refrain from traveling to Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas, where the percentage of positive test results was over 10%. Hogan urged people who had traveled to those states to get a coronavirus test.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) modified her Safer At Home Order to require students in second grade or higher to wear masks at school.

Friday, July 31, 2020 

  • Stay-at-home orders and reopening plans:
    • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued an executive order placing restrictions on several counties in northern Michigan. The restrictions included capping indoor gatherings at 10 people and closing bars that derived more than 70% of their revenue from the sale of alcohol.
  • Election changes:
    • U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island Judge Mary McElroy approved a consent agreement reached by the parties in Common Cause Rhode Island v. Gorbea. Rhode Island officials agreed not to enforce witness or notary requirements for mail-in ballots in both the September 8 primary and November general elections.
    • Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (D) announced that the state would provide prepaid return postage for all mail-in and absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 general election.
    • Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) signed HB6002 into law, allowing voters to cite concern over COVID-19 as a reason for voting by absentee ballot in the November 3 general election.
  • School closures and reopenings:
    • The Maine Department of Education released guidance for reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance required all staff and students age five and older to wear masks.
    • South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced masks would be required in all public school facilities for staff and students in grades 2-12.

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery

Thirteen states prohibit proof-of-vaccination requirements

In 13 states, governors have issued orders or signed bills prohibiting some or all levels of government from issuing COVID-19 vaccine identification cards or requiring proof of vaccination as a condition for people to enter premises or receive services.

A proof-of-vaccination requirement can be a private or government requirement that people prove they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine in order to receive business or government services. Vaccine identification cards or apps, which can be used to verify a person’s vaccine status, are sometimes referred to as vaccine passports.

All 13 states have a Republican governor.

In Alabama, Iowa, Montana, Texas, and Florida, bans on proof-of-vaccination requirements extend to some private businesses.

Governors in eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas—banned proof-of-vaccination requirements through executive orders. Governors in five states—Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Utah—signed legislation banning proof-of-vaccination requirements.

While several states have prohibited proof-of-vaccination requirements, New York and Hawaii have facilitated the creation of a vaccine status identification system or implemented policies allowing fully vaccinated individuals to bypass some COVID-19 restrictions.

In Hawaii, fully vaccinated individuals can travel between islands without quarantining or presenting a negative COVID-19 test if they can prove they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) launched the Excelsior Pass, an app that allows people to upload their vaccine status. Users can present the Excelsior App at events like sports games to sit in vaccinated sections that don’t require social distancing.

In Oregon, businesses and venues that verify vaccine status can allow fully vaccinated people to go without masks while indoors.

Texas voters will decide amendment prohibiting restrictions on religious gatherings and organizations in November

The Texas State Legislature voted Tuesday to refer its first constitutional amendment to the November ballot. The amendment would add a section to the state constitution prohibiting the state or any political subdivision from issuing or enacting a statute, order, or rule that prohibits or limits religious services, including religious services conducted in churches.

The amendment was proposed in response to the restrictions put in place requiring religious institutions to refrain from meeting in person in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Texas cities and counties issued stay-at-home orders requiring religious gatherings to stream their services. On March 31, 2020, Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order that included “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship” in the definition of “essential services.”

Rep. Scott Sanford (R), who voted in favor of the amendment, said, “Churches provide essential spiritual, mental and physical support in a time of crisis. Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution.”

Douglas Laycock, professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, opposes the measure and similar bills considered by the legislature: “There are very few occasions or reasons on which it would ever be necessary to shut down a place of worship, but COVID is one.”

As of May 10, Ballotpedia has identified 10 measures appearing on statewide ballots that were proposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and coronavirus-related regulations. On May 18, 2021, Pennsylvanians will decide on two constitutional amendments on the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf during the pandemic. The other ballot measures, which will be decided in 2022, concern changes to election procedures, convening state legislatures, and increasing appropriations limits during emergencies.

In Texas, to put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a two-thirds (66.67%) supermajority vote is required in both the Texas State Senate and the Texas House of Representatives. This requirement amounts to 100 votes in the House and 21 votes in the Senate.

The amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 27 on January 25, 2021. On March 25, 2021, the state Senate passed SJR 27 in a vote of 28-2 with one absent. All but two Democratic members voted in favor of the amendment. On May 11, 2021, the House approved the amendment by a vote of 108-33, with nine not voting or absent. In the House, 27 Democrats joined the Republican majority, and 33 Democrats were in the minority.

At the general election on November 3, 2020, Republicans retained control of the House and Senate. They maintained their 83-67 majority in the House and lost one seat in the Senate. The new majority in the Senate following the election was 18-13, which means support from at least three Democrats is needed to pass a constitutional amendment in the Senate.

During the 2021 legislative session, 218 constitutional amendments were filed in the Texas State Legislature. Legislators were permitted to file constitutional amendments through March 12, 2021, unless permission was given to introduce an amendment after the deadline. Democrats filed 92 (42.2%) of the constitutional amendments. Republicans filed 126 (57.8%) of the constitutional amendments. The legislature has until May 31st when it adjourns to refer a measure to the ballot.

Since 1876 when the current constitution was adopted, it has been amended 507 times. Voters approved 91% (154 of 169) and rejected 9% (15 of 169) of the constitutional amendments on ballots between 1995 and 2019.

Additional Reading:

Learn more about the arguments in the debate over religious service restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic

Discussions about policy responses to the coronavirus are happening at a fast pace. As part of our ongoing coverage Documenting America’s Path to Recovery, Ballotpedia has published a series of articles capturing the regular themes in support of and opposition to these policy responses.

Here’s how it works. First, we identify a topic area, (such as mask requirements or testing). Next, we gather and curate articles and commentary from public officials, think tanks, journalists, scientists, economists, and others. Finally, we organize that commentary into broad, thematic summaries of the arguments put forth.

We’ve identified the following arguments as some of those in favor of restrictions on religious services:

  1. Public safety priorities take precedence over religious interests,
  2. In-person religious gatherings are not essential services, and
  3. Religious gathering restrictions do not discriminate against faiths.

We’ve identified the following arguments as some of those against restrictions on religious services:

  1. Religious service restrictions violate the First Amendment and religious freedom,
  2. Religious services are essential, and
  3. COVID-19 religious restrictions are unfair to some faiths.

Additional reading: