hand opening white plastic pvc window at home.

It’s Time for the Federal Government to Get Back to Protecting the Nation Against COVID-19

By Jennifer S. Bard

Over the past two years, the Supreme Court has shown unprecedented hostility to efforts by both state and federal government to stop the spread of what every day turns out to be an even more deadly pandemic.

These decisions are devastating, and likely signal a continued attack on government authority, but they are not a reason to give up.

The federal government can still use its vast resources to slow the spread and continued mutation of the virus, by telling people what it knows of the danger, and what it knows about how to mitigate it.

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People wearing masks on bus.

Flaws in the Textualist Argument Against the CDC Mask Mandate

By Stefan Th. Gries, Michael Kranzlein, Nathan Schneider, Brian Slocum, and Kevin Tobia

In Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc. v. Biden, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s transit mask order, which was issued to stem the spread of SARS-CoV-2, exceeds the agency’s statutory authority, and struck down the mandate through a nation-wide injunction.

The district court’s reasoning exemplifies modern textualism. It focuses on the text of the 1944 Public Health Services Act (PHSA), which the Biden Administration claims authorizes the CDC’s transit mask order. The court relied heavily on the statute’s “ordinary meaning” and especially one word: “sanitation.”

Does the evidence support the court’s linguistic conclusions? Our team — of linguists, social scientists, philosophers of language, and lawyers — took a second look. We conclude that the district court’s approach fails on its own textualist terms. It gives the impression of selective reading of the linguistic record, rather than the careful investigation of meaning that textualism claims to champion.

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London, England, UK, January 22nd 2022, Long covid symptoms sign on pharmacy shop window UK.

Mobilizing Long COVID Awareness to Better Support People with Acquired Disabilities

By Marissa Wagner Mery

Long COVID exposes an often-unacknowledged facet of disability: that one is far more likely to develop a disability than be born with one.

Estimates suggest that, at present, approximately 10 – 20 million Americans are now afflicted with the array of debilitating symptoms we now call Long COVID, which include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog.”

The upswell of advocacy and awareness around Long COVID should be mobilized to call attention to and address the challenges faced by newly-disabled adults, particularly with respect to employment.

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Two women shaking hands.

An Empathetic Ear: Strategies for Employer Health and Wellness Negotiations

By Stacey Lee, Jacobo Guzman, and Gladys Johnson

Amid federal and state vaccine mandates, labor shortages, and increased requests for remote work flexibility, employers find themselves in an evolving landscape with less latitude over their organization’s workplace. As a result, employers and employees find themselves in conversations about crafting a “new normal” in which worker well-being is featured more prominently than before.

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Gavel and stethoscope.

Long COVID and Physical Reductionism

By Leslie Francis and Michael Ashley Stein

Like plaintiffs with other conditions lacking definitive physiological markers, long COVID plaintiffs seeking disability anti-discrimination law protections have confronted courts suspicious of their reports of symptoms and insistent on medical evidence in order for them to qualify as “disabled” and entitled to statutory protection.

We call this “physical reductionism” in disability determinations. Such physical reductionism is misguided for many reasons, including its failure to understand disability socially.

Ironically, these problems for plaintiffs may be traced to amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that were intended to expand coverage for plaintiffs claiming disability discrimination. Three provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) are appearing especially problematic for long COVID patients in the courts.

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HVAC tech wearing mask and gloves changing an air filter

Providing Clean Air in Indoor Spaces: Moving Beyond Accommodations Towards Barrier Removal

By Jennifer Bard

One of the most persistently frustrating aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as currently applied to schools and workplaces, is its emphasis on the eligibility of qualifying individuals for accommodation, rather than on population-based removal of barriers to participation.

This individualized approach has always been an uncomfortable fit, given the reality of changes in physical function throughout the lifespan, and is a particularly unsatisfying model for the collective threat of COVID-19, a novel virus that has not only caused at least a million deaths in the United States, but is likely to trigger a variety of disabling sequelae in many (perhaps most) of those who recover.

So far, however, there is mounting evidence that individuals who seek to protect themselves from infection with COVID-19 in school or in the workplace (very much including those who work in schools) are going to have to do based on their individual susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or to being disproportionately affected by an infection.

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Open front door.

Re-Imagining Work in the Post-Pandemic Era: An Arendtian Lens

By Xochitl L. Mendez

The coronavirus pandemic changed the world in countless ways, and for a moment it challenged the pre-pandemic separation of — in Hannah Arendt’s terms — the Private and the Public. To Arendt, the Public is defined as the sole realm where a human can live in full, as a person integral and part of a community as an equal. Being human is only fully procurable by the presence that a person achieves when acting among others. Contrastingly, to Arendt the Private is a shadowy space without the sufficient worth to merit “being seen or heard” by others. The Private is also the place where toiling with the endless necessities of providing for one’s body resides.

The COVID-19 pandemic challenged this separation. As many people and their loved ones fell seriously ill, an overwhelming portion of our nation found themselves for the first time living a struggle that previously was familiar mainly to those who suffer from chronic medical conditions. Millions were locked down and marooned at home — a radically novel experience to many, yet one that is sadly commonplace to a considerable number of individuals who live with disability and illness every day. Large portions of the workforce found themselves restricted to working remotely — a reality habitual to individuals who lack access to the workplace. All of these experiences suddenly stopped being private experiences — they became critical concerns discussed by a citizenry of equals, worth “being seen or heard” by others, and demanding policy and political action.

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Melbourne, Australia - 1st November 2021: A person wearing full PPE holds a vial of sotrovimab medicine covid-19 virus treatment. It is under an emergency use authorization to treat covid in Australia.

Litigation Challenges Prioritization of Race or Ethnicity in Allocating COVID-19 Therapies

By James Lytle

Recent guidance from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) encouraged several states to adopt policies that prioritized race or ethnicity in the allocation of monoclonal antibody treatments and oral antivirals for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.

The guidance proved to be highly controversial, prompting two states, Utah and Minnesota, to withdraw their guidance, and leading a third state, New York, to become the subject of two federal lawsuits that challenge the guidance’s legality: one (Jacobson v. Bassett) brought by a white, non-Hispanic Cornell Law Professor, William Jacobson, in the Northern District of New York (“Jacobson”) and a second (Roberts v. Bassett) initiated by Jonathan Roberts and Charles Vavruska, two white, non-Hispanic residents of New York City in the Eastern District (“Roberts”).

Public health and policy experts have published commentaries on the challenging issues underlying New York’s COVID treatment guidelines and others have offered more detailed guidance, including on this blog, on what criteria should be used in allocating scarce COVID treatments. What follows is focused on the litigation pending in New York and its potential impact on the broader issues at the intersection of the pandemic response and racial equity.

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3d render, abstract fantasy cloudscape on a sunny day, white clouds fly under the red gates on the blue sky. Square portal construction.

Workplace Accommodations in a Post-COVID Era

By Scott J. Schweikart

The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has opened the door to new opportunities to improve our society. For example, office changes brought about by the pandemic — e.g., remote working or telecommuting — made life easier for many workers with disabilities. However, as more of the workforce begins returning to the office, there are notable examples of employers pushing back on the increased accommodations realized during the pandemic, indicating that some gains in accommodation will continue to be hard fought. In an effort to rid our society of harmful inequities, the struggle for these rights has important value.

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Female freelance programmer in modern headphones sitting in wheelchair and using computers while coding web game at home.

Injustice Anywhere: The Need to Decouple Disability and Productivity

By Brooke Ellison

There is a profound need to deconstruct and actively reconstruct the interpretation of disability as it is currently understood.

The current framing of disability as inability — whether an inability to be employed or otherwise — has utterly failed not only people with disabilities, but also the communities in which they live.

This perception of disability is a relic of attitudinal and policy structures put into place by people who do not live with disability themselves: people who may have been ignorant to the virtues that living with disability engenders.

Current calls for attention to a disability bioethics or a disability epistemology have heralded not only highlighting, but also actively promoting, the qualities, leadership skills, and valuable character traits associated with surviving and thriving in a world fundamentally not set up for one’s own needs.

Before any meaningful movement can be made when it comes to the employment of people with disabilities — whether in the form of workplace accommodations, flexible work settings, recruitment practices, or limitations on earnings — the underlying assumption about the value of their presence in the workforce needs to change.

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