Denver, Colorado, USA 9-21-20 Amtrak Train crossing through the Colorado Rocky Mountains with peak Fall Colors in September.

Could Amtrak’s Quiet Car Be a Model for COVID-19 Travel Policies?

By Terri Gerstein

Consider the quiet car. Some Amtrak trains have a designated car for people who want a hushed environment in which to work, read, or sleep. Passengers who want quiet choose the quiet car. People who don’t want quiet sit elsewhere. In short: people want different options for travel, and Amtrak threads the needle, accommodating varying needs.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this same approach could be taken in relation to masking. While the science is clear that universal masking is the best way to reduce the virus’ spread, highly vocal opponents have made masks a thorny subject for political leaders. Mask mandates are gone, at least for now. As such, Amtrak, airlines, public transit, and other transportation companies should provide must-mask options for passengers who need or want them.

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Airplane taking off from the airport.

In-Flight COVID Transmission: Surveying the Liability Landscape

By Christopher Robertson

Do airlines have legal obligations to manage the risk of in-flight infections?

In the pre-COVID era, I answered this question affirmatively. In a 2016 paper, I reviewed the scientific literature showing that airline travel is a key vector for spreading infectious disease, both because airports and airplanes tend to mix people in such close quarters that they are likely to infect each other, and because it efficiently distributes infected people around the world to then infect more people.

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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.

A Different Future Was Possible: Reflections on the US Pandemic Response

By Justin Feldman

The inadequacies of the early U.S. pandemic response are well-rehearsed at this point — the failure to develop tests, distribute personal protective equipment, recommend masks for the general public, protect essential workers, and take swift action to stop the spread.

But to focus on these failures risks forgetting the collective framing and collective policy response that dominated the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. And forgetting that makes it seem as though our current, enormous death toll was inevitable. This dangerously obscures what went wrong and limits our political imagination for the future of the COVID-19 pandemic and other emerging crises.

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person walking away from a surgical mask lying on the ground.

The Mask-Optional DEI Initiative

By Matt Dowell

Recently, I remotely attended a mask-optional, in-person meeting where campus leaders proudly proclaimed that DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is my college’s “top priority.”

As a disabled faculty member who writes about disability access in higher education, I found myself considering how to make sense of such a statement — how seriously to take such statements, how much to care that such statements are being made.

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 24, 2020: New York Times newspaper with "U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss" front-page article delivered to front door in Manhattan.

Pandemic Nihilism, Social Murder, and the Banality of Evil

­­By Nate Holdren

Lire en français.

Every day in the pandemic, many people’s lives end, and others are made irrevocably worse.[1]

These daily losses matter inestimably at a human level, yet they do not matter in any meaningful way at all to the public and private institutions that govern our lives. Our suffering is inconsequential to the machinery of power and to those who compose and operate that machinery. This has been the case all along, but in this phase of the pandemic, our suffering has been nihilistically recast as not just inconsequential, but inevitable by the administration and the voices it has cultivated as its proxies. Consider, for example, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s remarks during President Biden’s July 2022 COVID-19 infection: “As we have said, almost everyone is going to get COVID.”

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The White House, Washington, DC.

The Years of Magical Thinking: Pandemic Necrosecurity Under Trump and Biden

By Martha Lincoln

From spring 2020 through the present day, Americans have endured levels of sickness and death that are outliers among not only wealthy democracies, but around the world. No other country has recorded as many total COVID-19 casualties as the United States — indeed, no other country comes close.

This situation is not happenstance. From early moments in 2020, the concept of a right to health — and indeed, even a right to life — has been discounted in American policy, discourse, and practice. Quite mainstream and influential individuals and institutions — physicians, economists, and think tanks — have urged leaders to shed public health protections — particularly masking — and “move away” from the pandemic. Over the past two years in the United States, leaders in both political parties have capitulated to — if not embraced — the doxa that a certain amount of death and suffering is inevitable in our efforts to overcome (or “live with”) the pandemic. In a piece written during the first months of COVID under Trump, I called this dangerous yet influential outlook necrosecurity: “the cultural idea that mass death among less grievable subjects plays an essential role in maintaining social welfare and public order.”

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Washington DC 09 20 2021. More than 600,000 white flags honor lives lost to COVID, on the National Mall. The art installation " In America: Remember" was created by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.

Introduction to the Symposium: Health Law and Policy in an Era of Mass Suffering

By Chloe Reichel and Benjamin A. Barsky

Last spring, the United States crossed the bleak and preventable 1,000,000-death mark for lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this symposium, our hope is to acknowledge — and mourn — this current era of mass suffering and death.

In particular, we want to reckon with the role of health law and policy in shaping, and at times catalyzing, the impact that the pandemic has had on our loved ones and communities.

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NEW YORK - CIRCA DECEMBER 2020: Crowd of people wearing masks walking in the street.

The Pandemic Policy Excuse of ‘Meeting People Where They Are’

By Daniel Goldberg

Too often throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers have justified controversial policy choices by stating that the world is not arranged in a way to make certain actions feasible. While practical difficulties matter, permitting such difficulties to exhaust the scope of our ethical obligations is a grave mistake that moves us farther away from a just and equitable world.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Georgia, Atlanta USA March 6, 2020.

For Whom Does the CDC Think it Works?

By Jennifer S. Bard

As weekly deaths from COVID in the U.S. soar into thousands, monkeypox continues to spread, and New York reports the country’s first case of paralytic polio since 1979, it is fair to question the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s effectiveness and ability to achieve its mission to “to protect America from health, safety and security threats” and its pledge to “base all public health decisions on the highest quality scientific data that is derived openly and objectively” and “place the benefits to society above the benefits to our institution.”

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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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