Municipal governments, through the local boards of health, are granted broad authority to manage public health emergencies and are given an array of tools to curtail the spread of communicable disease.
By statute (N.J.S.A. 26:3-1), every municipality in New Jersey is required to provide a program of public health services meeting standards of performance as determined by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services. These standards are defined by the Department in the Public health Practice Standards of Performance for Local Boards of Health in New Jersey (N.J.A.C. 8:52). A municipality may meet this requirement by:
- Maintaining a municipal health department;
- Contracting with the health department of another municipality;
- Participating in a regional health commission; or
- Contracting with, or agreeing to come under the jurisdiction of, a county health department.
Most of New Jersey’s municipalities participate in some sort of shared agreement to meet their statutory requirement of providing a local board of health. Very few municipalities have their own board of health. So, while New Jersey consists of 565 municipalities, there are far fewer local health departments.
It is through the local boards of health, whatever form they may be, that municipal officials will address public health emergencies such as communicable diseases and epidemics.