County health departments may have harder time fighting AG's cease and desist letters than schools

Jackson County Health Department
Posted at 5:02 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 20:41:23-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — County health departments in Missouri are still trying to figure out how to respond to a letter from Attorney General Eric Schmitt that strips their power to do COVID-19 related work.

Schmitt sent out the letters after a Cole County judge's ruling that the authority the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services gave to local health departments was too broad.

"In essence, that's a protection in order for us not to be governed by those who we've not elected," Sarah Jones, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins, said. "So, what Judge Green is saying: 'You went too far, you're starting to make laws that are beyond your capacity.'"

Some departments, like Daviess, Gentry, DeKalb, Worth, Carroll, Saline and LaClede, have posted on Facebook that they now can't help schools with contact tracing anymore. However, they say they'll still contact positive cases.

Further, some counties, like Platte, said they can't issue quarantine orders for any communicable disease, not just COVID-19. Some have ended all investigation and announcements of Covid cases, like Laclede.

Jackson County said the AG's move makes their jobs even harder. A spokesperson for the county sent KSHB 41 News a statement reading:

"Consistent with the Cole County Judgment, the Jackson County Health Department (JCHD) will not create orders or rules related to reporting, quarantine, isolation and exclusion from school.  JCHD will continue to provide support, guidance and recommendations to schools and the public, related to implementation of the Regulations that remain valid and in effect."

Jones said the sticking point comes down to whether these entities issued COVID-19 policies based off the authority given to them by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

"If it was not done within that power, and it was done as legislative body then it doesn't apply, and that's where the confusion is going to land," Jones said.

Jones anticipates school districts, who also got cease and desist letters, will be better able to fight the AG on this, since an elected body voted on their COVID-19 policies.

What about public health departments?

"We'll see more of an issue of, 'We don't know where we garnered our authority from,' with the benefit of the doubt being, 'We thought we had this authority because it was a pandemic because it was an emergency,'" Jones said.

The Kansas City, Missouri Health Department told KSHB 41 News that the AG's letter wouldn't affect them because the mayor and city council voted on former Covid policies.

Jones said the judge's ruling is narrow. She anticipates some health departments will fight it.

"We'll have some appeals and actually hear what the higher courts have to say about this cease and desist letter but, ultimately, about this Judge Green ruling," Jones said.