COVID-19: Rapid Legal Assessment

The recommendations in this report, titled “Summary of Findings and Recommendations,” encompass nearly all aspects of the response and are organized into six priority areas: (i) Using Government Powers to Control the Pandemic; (ii) Fulfilling Governmental Responsibilities in a Federal System; (iii) Financing and Delivering Health Care; (iv) Assuring Access to Medicines and Medical Supplies; (v) Protecting Workers and Families; and (vi) Taking on Disparities and Protecting Equal Rights. The findings and recommendations are those of each individual author, and they are sweeping. Experts in this report call for fundamental structural changes to reduce the pernicious influence of politics on scientific decision making — like establishing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an independent agency along the lines of the Federal Reserve. They suggest increasing the resilience of state economies by eliminating rules that require states to balance their budgets even in crisis years. They recommend aggressive expansion of health care access through Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, along with the removal of crucial barriers to care, like current immigration law and enforcement. They criticize multiple government failures in securing basic medical supplies and tests and recommend a comprehensive reboot of federal coordination and procurement led by career government staff and free of political interference. They recognize the health risks and economic stress experienced by workers and families and call for both continued economic support legislation and better enforcement of occupational safety and health rules.

Every author has found ways in which the law as it has functioned in the COVID-19 context has failed to address racial and economic disparities or made them worse. Authors find that states and cities have moved schooling online without removing legal barriers to – let alone ensuring – universal access to broadband internet; they have relied on low-wage workers in many sectors to keep the  economy and vital services working, but have taken too little action  to assure safe workplaces, provide paid sick leave, or recognize higher risk with higher pay; they have issued plans for allocating scarce medical services that violate laws protecting people with disabilities.

The most important finding of this report is that better use of legal tools can help turn things around right now. COVID-19 is here, and there is no time to waste in getting it under control. The authors argue that everyone in America can help by maintaining physical distance, wearing a mask, and vocally supporting an effective response rooted in apolitical judgment, scientific evidence, and public health expertise. They conclude that the country is still capable of great things, and the legal recommendations in the report offer a detailed roadmap to successfully control the pandemic and mitigation of its worst economic and social effects. 

You can download the full “Summary of Findings and Recommendations” here.

Scott Burris, J.D., is a Professor of Law at Temple Law School, where he directs the Center for Public Health Law Research. He is also a Professor in Temple’s School of Public Health. Burris began his career in public health law during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He was the editor of the first systematic legal analysis of HIV in the United States and spent several years lobbying and litigating on behalf of people with HIV as an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. Since joining the Temple faculty in 1991, his research has focused on how law influences public health and health behavior. In 2009, he founded the Public Health Law Research Program for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has supported over 80 empirical studies of the impact of law on health, as well as LawAtlas, an innovative policy surveillance portal, and a comprehensive resource on scientific health law research methods.

Sarah de Guia, J.D., is CEO of ChangeLab Solutions, where she oversees the development and implementation of long-term goals, priorities, strategies, and budget. Before joining ChangeLab Solutions, Sarah worked at the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN), first as director of government affairs and then as executive director. Sarah’s accomplishments during her tenure at CPEHN include the passage of more than a dozen legislative bills to further health equity; and improving the quality of health care for immigrants, patients with limited English proficiency, and communities of color.

Lance Gable, J.D., M.P.H., is an associate professor of law at Wayne State University Law School. Gable, an internationally known expert on public health law and bioethics, served as interim dean of Wayne Law from September 2016 to August 2017. A member of the Law School faculty since 2006, he also served as associate dean from June 2014 until his appointment as interim dean in 2016. Prior to that, he was interim associate dean since June 2013. He teaches courses on Public Health Law, Bioethics and the Law, Torts and other health law subjects.

Donna Levin, J.D., is national director of the Network for Public Health Law, where she oversees organizational strategy and operations. Before joining the Network, Donna spent 26 years as general counsel at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where she had oversight of Office of General Counsel and led her team in providing guidance on statutory and regulatory authority, the development of major policy initiatives of the Department, and legislation affecting public health. Donna has been an adjunct professor of public health law at Suffolk University School of Law and was a lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health. She also served as a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies’ Committee on Guidance for Establishing Standards of Care in Disaster Situations.

Wendy E. Parmet, J.D., is George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Northeastern University School of Law, where she is also Director of the Program on Health Policy and Law. She is the author of “Populations, Public Health, and the Law”, published by Georgetown University Press in 2009 and with Professor Patricia Illingworth, “Ethical Health Care”, published by Prentice Hall in 2005, as well as numerous articles in medical, legal, and public policy journals on public health law, health care access, bioethics, and disability law. Professor Parmet has served as counsel on several major court cases involving health care access.

Nicolas P. Terry, LL.M., is the Hall Render Professor of Law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law where he serves as the Executive Director of the Hall Center for Law and Health. There, he teaches Introduction to Health Care Law & Policy, Healthcare Quality & Safety, and Health Information Technology & Privacy. He has been a Senior Fellow at Melbourne Law School and held visiting faculty positions at the law schools of Santa Clara University, the University of Missouri-Columbia, Washington University, and the University of Iowa. Professor Terry’s research interests lie primarily at the intersection of medicine, law, and information technology. 

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