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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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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NEW YORK, NEW YORK: MAY 18, 2020: A jogger runs past a banner by the Battery Park City Authority reminding park visitors to please wear face masks.

Negotiating Masks in the Workplace: When the ADA Does and Does Not Apply

By Katherine Macfarlane

Workplaces are, by and large, no longer safe for employees who are high-risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common for workplaces to require masks, at least in shared spaces. Two years later, though the pandemic is still ongoing, mask requirements are now far less prevalent as a result of the politicization of masks, so-called mask fatigue, and new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This move to relax masking rules presents significant dangers to those most vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19. High-risk employees still need their co-workers to wear masks. They must now negotiate for safe workplaces in a social and political climate that is increasingly indifferent (or actively hostile) to their needs.

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children wearing masks.

Reconsidering Mask Mandates

By Carmel Shachar

The desire to get back to “normal” is an understandable one. And despite their prevalence for the last two years, masks don’t fit into most people’s concept of normal.

But removing mask requirements means rejecting yet another public health tool to control the pandemic and protect our health care system.

First, some context: most states haven’t had indoor mask mandates in place for many months. As of February 10th, only Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Hawaii, Illinois, and Delaware had statewide indoor mask mandates. These remaining few states are now taking steps to end mask policies. Some states have narrower mask mandates that apply to schools, and are similarly moving to end such policies.

But the decision to end these mandates is not made in a vacuum. We should be thinking about what other public health initiatives and components should be in place before we lift these protections.

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First-person perspective photograph of a health care worker holding up a mask used to prevent the spread of germs

Mask Mandates, Unmasked

By Morgan Sandhu, J.D.

Face shield.

The Case for Face Shields: Improving the COVID-19 Public Health Policy Toolkit

By Timothy Wiemken, Ana Santos Rutschman, and Robert Gatter

As the United States battles the later stages of the first wave of COVID-19 and faces the prospect of future waves, it is time to consider the practical utility of face shields as an alternative or complement to face masks in the policy guidance. Without face shields specifically noted in national guidance, many areas may be reluctant to allow their use as an alternative to cloth face masks, even with sufficient modification.

In this post, we discuss the benefits of face shields as a substitute to face masks in the context of public health policy. We further discuss the implications and opportunity costs of creating policy guidance with only a small subset of scientific data, much of which is limited. We conclude by arguing that existing federal guidance should be expanded to include face shields as a policy option.

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Masks.

Indiana’s Mask Mandate Debate Raises Public Health Enforcement Questions

By Ross Silverman

On Wednesday, July 22, 2020, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced an Emergency Order to mandate mask wearing in public places beginning July 27, and indicated that violations of the order could potentially result in criminal penalties. Shortly after, Attorney General Curtis Hill issued an opinion questioning the Governor’s authority to criminalize mask violations under the state’s Emergency Management and Disaster Law (EMDL).

Indiana’s Executive Order, while in line with some 30 other states now imposing mask orders, represents a change of positions for the Governor. Holcomb has been an advocate for mask wearing in both word and deed, but, until now, not a mandate. As he indicated at his press conference, there have been “concerning changes” in the state’s trajectory of new COVID-19 cases, and that “By masking up, we can & will save lives & slow the spread of #COVID19.”

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