Republican lawmakers in 26 states have passed legislation to permanently limit the power of state and local officials to enact COVID-19 safety protocols like mask and vaccine mandates, according to a review released Wednesday from Kaiser Health News.

The review, which looked at hundreds of legislative acts, found that all 50 states have introduced such bills. Of the 26 states that passed the bills into law, about 17 states banned vaccine passports or mandates while 16 states limited public health officials' powers to mandate masks, quarantines or isolation. Five states passed executive orders limiting mask mandates.

"We really could see more people sick, hurt, hospitalized or even die, depending on the extremity of the legislation and curtailing of the authority," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told the Associated Press. 

These restrictions on COVID safety come as the nation sees a massive spike in coronavirus cases, with numbers reaching levels not seen since January. On Tuesday, there were almost 160,000 new cases. 

Yet, Republican lawmakers argue these measures are their way to “stand up for freedom." Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday threatened to impose a $5,000 fine against entities requiring their employees to get vaccinated. 

“This is political, it’s about using government power to control,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to protect these jobs, we’re going to protect livelihoods and we’re going to protect families.”

Many of these bans and fines specifically impact public schools, banning them from requiring students to wear masks as fall classes recommence. 

The Department of Education has opened an investigation into states — they include Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — that are blocking school mask requirements, claiming they are “preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities.”

"It's simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve. The department will fight to protect every student's right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in August.

The AP noted how public health academics and officials are frustrated by perceptions that they are more to blame than the virus. 

“It’s kind of like having your hands tied in the middle of a boxing match,” Kelley Vollmar, executive director of the Jefferson County Health Department in Missouri, told the AP.