Participants listening to lecture in lecture hall.

A Categorical No to Categorical Accommodation Denials Related to COVID-19?

By Katherine Macfarlane and Irina Manta

Since fall 2021, when most colleges and universities reopened their campuses to in-person activities, it has become increasingly difficult for faculty and students with disabilities to obtain reasonable accommodations to teach or attend class remotely. Remote accommodations were granted freely during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in 2021, the in-person aspect of teaching and learning was suddenly deemed essential, and at many institutions, remote classes came to an end. Despite federal disability law’s requirement that each reasonable accommodation request be assessed individually, faculty and students alike were met with bright-line policies that remote teaching and learning were out of the question.

The language and logic used to deny these accommodations at universities across the country was suspiciously similar. We wondered to ourselves whether a memo had been circulated instructing universities about which magic words to employ to deny each accommodation request. But no matter what words are used, across-the-board policies that do not contemplate accommodation-based exceptions and fail to assess accommodation requests on an individual basis do not comply with federal disability law. A recent federal case brought by a high-risk professor against his university employer has recognized these well-settled principles and highlighted the problem with formulaic denials.

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Hands with blue protective nitride gloves holding N95 respirator.

A Patient’s Right to Masked Health Care Providers

By Katherine A. Macfarlane

In May 2023, Mass General Brigham instructed its patients that they “cannot ask staff members to wear a mask because our policies no longer require it.”

Following patient protests, the hospital updated its policies with an imperfect fix, announcing that “patients can ask, but providers determine when and if masking in a particular situation is clinically necessary.”

This episode highlights the uneasy circumstances that people with disabilities face in the U.S. while accessing essential care: On the one hand, the law surrounding reasonable modifications in health care is well-settled. On the other, the practical reality of U.S. health care leaves little room for individualized accommodation and self-advocating patients vulnerable to retaliation.

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Los Angeles, California / USA - May 28, 2020: People in Downtown Los Angeles protest the brutal Police killing of George Floyd.

Learning from the ‘COVID War’

By Sam Friedman

Amid an emergent international consensus that the COVID pandemic is “over,” writings about the pandemic and its meanings have burst forth like the flowers of June.

This article will focus on one such book, Lessons from the COVID War: An Investigative Report. Produced by an eminently established collection of people, The COVID Crisis Group. The book is intelligently critical of what was done during the pandemic, but at all points it remains within the confines of what is “politically respectable.” This respectability, I argue, means that their recommendations are too narrow to protect Americans, much less the populations of the Global South, from pandemics ahead (barring unexpectedly marvelous advances in vaccine breadth and rapidity of deployment).

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an ambulance parked at the entrance of an emergency department

Psychiatric Care in Crisis

By Zainab Ahmed

Psychiatric care in the Emergency Department is all-or-nothing and never enough. Often, legal holds are the only intervention available, and they rarely are therapeutic. Upon discharge, our patients are, once again, on their own.

The ED acts as a safety-net for a failing health system, one that places little value on mental health services, either preventative or follow-up. The demand for acute psychiatric care is high; however, EDs have little physical capacity for psychiatric patients.

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Doctor wearing glasses listening to female patient.

Physician Free Speech and the Doctor-Patient Relationship Post-Dobbs

By Lynette Martins and Scott Schweikart

Laws regulating physicians’ professional speech – i.e., what they can and cannot discuss in the exam room with patients — have made a resurgence in the post-Dobbs era. These so-called “gag laws” have primarily targeted physicians’ speech around firearms, reproductive rights (predominantly abortion), and, less frequently, conversion therapy.

In the abortion context, these restrictive laws impact not only patient access to critical medical services, but also the fundamental underpinnings of the physician-patient relationship.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 4, 2021. People waiting for their turn to be vaccinated against Covid-19 at the Club Atlético River Plate Microstadium.

Considerations from Argentina on the Judicial Control of Public Health Policies

By María Natalia Echegoyemberry and Francisco Verbic

This article looks at the COVID-19 pandemic response in Argentina, with a particular focus on the judicial control of public health policies. Looking ahead, we discuss the mechanisms that need to be implemented in order to avoid undue judicial interference, which is particularly critical in countries like Argentina, where the Judiciary is delegitimized and strongly questioned.

We focus on a case in Argentina where a federal judge ordered the suspension of the campaign for pediatric vaccination against COVID-19.

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Gavel and stethoscope.

Public Health Law and Civil Rights Laws Must Work Together to Rise to the Challenge of Long COVID

By Elizabeth Pendo

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the need for public health laws and policies that align with and reinforce civil rights protections for disproportionately impacted populations is greater than ever. In particular, disability rights laws will be critical for responding to the millions of Americans who experience lasting or recurring symptoms after acute COVID-19 infection (commonly referred to as “long COVID”). This article will discuss the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in protecting the rights of people with long COVID and other disabilities in the workplace, in health care, and in disability and other benefits in order to chart an equitable path forward.

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Gas stove burner with burning gas. Sale and purchase of gas fuel.

The Public Health Case Against Gas Appliances

By Heather Payne and Jennifer D. Oliva

Gas appliances pose a grave danger to tenant health and safety.

In a forthcoming article, we argue that the mere presence of natural gas appliances in the home renders a dwelling uninhabitable due to their potential health harms. We further contend that tenants should invoke the implied warranty of habitability to eliminate the continued exposure to natural gas appliance-generated indoor air pollutants.

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