Weekly Review: COVID-19 Legal & Ethics Issues – August 10, 2020

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Weekly Review: COVID-19 Legal & Ethics Issues – August 10, 2020

Weekly Review: COVID-19 Legal & Ethics Issues – August 10, 2020

Essential Workers – Processing Plants

Tyson workers file suit following employer gaining waivers in April from the US Department of Agriculture to allow work to proceed faster at Kentucky and Corydon, Indiana poultry processing plants despite Covid-19 outbreak among employees. The suit argues that the April waivers did not take into account rising worker infection numbers occurring at the time, as increased line speeds increase the likelihood that “workers would have to work closer together to keep up with higher processing line speeds, limiting social distancing and increasing the risk of COVID-19 spread.” The lawsuit also claims that the waivers were approved without an opportunity for public comment, a violation of federal law.

The Eviction Crisis

According to this analysis by 9 experts on housing policy, because of the economic impact of Covid-19, and the expiration of federal, state, and local protections and programs aimed at helping our neighbors in crisis, 30-40 million people could be at risk of eviction in the next few months. This creates the potential for a catastrophe that would destabilize families, small property owners, and communities nationwide for years to come, with communities of color at particular risk.

In Indiana, according to their analysis, between 31-42% of Hoosier households — 569,000-720,000 people — are at risk of eviction. As the authors state:

The impact of an eviction on families and individuals is even greater. Following eviction, a person’s likelihood of experiencing homelessness increases, mental and physical health are diminished, and the probability of obtaining employment declines. Eviction is linked to numerous poor health outcomes, including depression, suicide and anxiety, among others. In addition, eviction is linked with respiratory disease, which could increase the risk of complications if COVID-19 is contracted, as well as mortality risk during COVID-19. Eviction makes it more expensive and more difficult for tenants who have been evicted to rent safe and decent housing, apply for credit, borrow money, or purchase a home. Instability, like eviction, is particularly damaging to children, who suffer in ways that impact their educational development and well-being for years.

As the authors go on to state, “The eviction crisis and its devastating outcomes are entirely preventable.” They list a number of policy solutions, including a nationwide moratorium on evictions, federal emergency rental assistance and extension of enhanced unemployment insurance for displaced workers, as well adopting policies assuring as a civil right to counsel in eviction cases.

Racism as Public Health Crisis, Health Equity as Major Goal for Michigan Health Policy 

Last week, the Michigan Governor signed an Executive Directive declaring racism a public health crisis, making health equity a major goal of their state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and issued an Executive Order creating a Black Leadership Advisory Council to “elevate Black voices.” The governor issued this order in part due to the significantly higher rates of Covid-19 morbidity and mortality occurring in the state’s black communities, as well as the increased attention drawn to police violence and how the structure and enforcement of many federal, state, and local policies disproportionately adversely affect minority populations. 

Indianapolis’ City-County Council passed a similar proclamation in June, and this past week, the Lilly Endowment announced it was dedicating $100 million to launch the Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Renewal Initiative. addressing health and economic disparities that affect the Indianapolis Black community.

Paid Sick Leave

At least five states are actively looking at ways to ensure that their residents are (or continue to be) protected with emergency sick leave from work. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act offered protection to many workers, but exempted companies with 500 or more employees from the rule. According to one evaluation this means between 68-106 million U.S. workers are not guaranteed such benefits because their employers are exempted from having to provide such benefits.

Contact Tracing & Travel Quarantines 

Some New York restaurants are taking patron temperatures and collecting information off of their IDs, holding onto such data for at least a month. They also are asking visitors whose IDs indicate they are from out of state if they are supposed to be in traveler’s quarantine. These steps are recommended in state guidance for Personal Care Services businesses and Food Services Businesses concerning contact tracing and to protect against cases coming into New York from elsewhere. As the guidelines state,

  • Responsible Parties cannot mandate that customers complete a health screen or provide contact information but may encourage customers to do so. Responsible Parties may provide an option for customers to provide contact information so they can be logged and contacted for contact tracing, if necessary.

The Personal Care Services guidelines also 

  • Responsible Parties should encourage customers to provide verbal or written confirmation that they are symptom free.

Child Services

Child welfare services workers are considered Essential Workers in many states. However, as this report indicates, in California those workers have not only been asked to undertake their work from home, rather than make site visits, but also lack the Personal Protective Equipment to safely conduct welfare checks. As the New York Times reported about the Los Angeles child welfare system,

Many abused children whom the agency deemed to be living under “high” or “very high” risk of renewed abuse were not visited for months, records and interviews show. Before the pandemic, child welfare workers in Los Angeles were required to at least try visiting children within five days of a new abuse allegation. Now they are allowed to take up to 10 days to respond to most new reports of mistreatment.

“We are in completely uncharted territory, and it concerns me greatly,” said Bobby Cagle, the director of the child welfare agency for Los Angeles County.

“The difficulty here,” he added, “is that we’re trying to balance the need for making those visits with the need to also protect our staff and to protect the child and family.”

Protecting Public Health Officials

Attacks on Public Health Professionals During Covid-19” is an important perspective on the dangers faced by those who serve the public to protect our communities’ health and safety. Co-authored by a former state health official and two leading public health law and policy scholars, the piece describes the threats and harassment faced by local, state and federal health officials, and steps that should and could be taken to improve public dialogue and decrease the danger. Their recommendations include the following (but read the full piece):

Instead of attacking their health officials, elected leaders should provide them with protection from illegal harassment, assault, and violence. States and the federal government should investigate all credible threats, provide security details as warranted, and prosecute those whose harassment crosses legal lines. Without protection and support, the already scarce supply of qualified individuals willing to serve in health officer roles will decline further.

In the face of harassment and personal attacks, health officials should seek effective and safe ways to engage the public on COVID-19 policy. In the initial stages of the epidemic, swift decision-making was necessary; now there is greater opportunity for communitywide reflection and input. Research shows that acceptance of public health laws is strongly influenced by people’s belief that officials understand the public’s values and that “people like me” can influence government priorities in public health.6 This is particularly important in the current discussion about opening schools in the fall; deliberations should involve parents, teachers, and others.7

Sheltering and Reopening 

While the Covid-19 infection numbers are not great anywhere nationwide, Dr. Fauci is optimistic we can get by without widespread shutdowns. That said, you might want to keep an eye on the Global Compliance News’ 50 State Shelter-in-Place/Reopening Tracker.

Telehealth

Connecticut recently passed a law to extend the Covid-19-related flexibility to employ telehealth services in their state.

|2020-08-10T08:45:20-04:00August 10th, 2020|COVID-19 Literature|0 Comments

About the Author: Ross Silverman

Ross Silverman
Ross D. Silverman, JD, MPH, is Professor of Health Policy and Management at Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health and Professor of Public Health and Law at Indiana University McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis. He is a member of the IU Centers on Health Policy and Bioethics. His research focuses on public health and medical law, policy, and ethics, and law's impact on health outcomes and vulnerable populations. He also serves as Associate Editor on Legal Epidemiology for Public Health Reports, the official journal of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service. His most recent Covid-19 publications include: "Ensuring Uptake of Vaccines Against SARS-CoV-2" in the New England Journal of Medicine (with MM Mello & SB Omer), and "Covid-19: control measures must be equitable and inclusive" in BMJ (with ZD Berger, NG Evans & AL Phelan)

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