Category Archives: Pandemics & Infectious Diseases

New York’s Nursing Homes Were on the Brink. Then Covid Hit. Covid was a nightmare — but it was a nightmare years in the making, workers say.

Source: Bridget Read, The Cut, April 2021

….But the blame for what happened in New York’s nursing homes extends far beyond the Cuomo administration. It is a huge crisis of neglect, decades in the making. Care workers who survived the pandemic say that the virus exposed preexisting gaps in funding and attention, compounding deficiencies that created the conditions for absolute disaster. Horrifying images of nurses dressed in black trash bags begging for PPE were shocking, but they were not a surprise to workers.

Though nursing homes are funded by billions of government dollars from Medicare and Medicaid, a majority in the United States are now owned by for-profit companies — in New York, it’s 60 percent of facilities. They’ve become cash cows for executives and owners, snapped up at alarming rates by huge conglomerates or private-equity firms. For staff and residents, the consequences have been dire. For-profit homes statistically have leaner staffing, bad food, substandard conditions, and higher chances of abuse, though they are intended to service residents that need intensive levels of care. Some patients are in relatively good health, but others require help with almost every aspect of life. Many have little or no family visiting them, which can lead to behavioral issues. Residents with dementia can be a danger to themselves. These are the people living in New York’s for-profit facilities, one in four of which have the state’s lowest-star-quality ratings….

A policy manifesto for paying, protecting, and empowering essential workers

Source: Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program, March 18, 2021

….Powell and his fellow frontline employees at the hospital are strenuously working to do jobs like cleaning, taking vital signs, and spending time with patients—but without the decent pay and respect that nurses and doctors earn. “These are people who work very, very, very hard, and who make very, very, very little,” he said.

With the country on track for mass vaccinations in the coming months, the worst of the pandemic may be over. But the risks facing frontline essential workers like Powell have not ended. Many of the underlining inequities they face—including low wages, structural racism, and inadequate protections—remain.

It is long past time that we treat essential workers as truly essential. Lawmakers in Washington and around the country have the opportunity to turn their policy rhetoric into real change. The recommendations in this report lay out how federal, state, and local policymakers can—finally—give essential workers what they have always deserved: the dignity of a living wage, lifesaving protections, and power in their workplaces…..

Pandemics and Automation: Will the Lost Jobs Come Back?

Source: Tahsin Saadi-Sedik, Jiae Yoo, International Monetary Fund (IMF), IMF Working Paper No. 2021/011, January 1, 2021

From the abstract:
COVID-19 has exacerbated concerns about the rise of the robots and other automation technologies. This paper analyzes empirically the impact of past major pandemics on robot adoption and inequality. First, we find that pandemic events accelerate robot adoption, especially when the health impact is severe and is associated with a significant economic downturn. Second, while robots may raise productivity, they could also increase inequality by displacing low-skilled workers. We find that following a pandemic, the increase in inequality over the medium term is larger for economies with higher robot density and where new robot adoption has increased more. Our results suggest that the concerns about the rise of the robots amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem justified.

Inside a Long, Messy Year of Reopening Schools

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, New Republic, March 8, 2021

Teachers unions were accused of being obstinate and compromising education. The real story is a lot more complex.

Last month in Chicago, after months of heated negotiations, the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools emerged with one of the most detailed school reopening agreements in the nation. Brad Marianno, an education policy professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has been studying these agreements since last spring, called it the most comprehensive he’s seen, citing its inclusion of things like testing protocols, measures that might lead to reclosing schools, and vaccination commitments. Among other things, the union succeeded in negotiating accommodations for hundreds more members at higher risk of Covid-19 complications, or who serve as the primary caregiver for someone at higher risk, than the district had originally agreed to accommodate.

Stacy Davis Gates, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said one of the most important components of the agreement was the so-called “school safety committees” a demand the union put forward in December to hold leadership accountable to the health and safety promises it’s made. The school-based committees include up to four CTU members, the principal, the building engineer, and a “reasonable” number of other employees like janitors, lunchroom staff, and security guards. On a regular basis, they will flag to the principal any issues that arise and can hold the school liable if they go ignored. ….

COVID‐19 as an occupational disease

Source: Christopher Carlsten, Mridu Gulati, Stella Hines, Cecile Rose, Kenneth Scott, Susan M. Tarlo, Kjell Torén, Akshay Sood, Rafael E. de la Hoz, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, First published: January 24, 2021

From the abstract:
The impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 permeates all aspects of society worldwide. Initial medical reports and media coverage have increased awareness of the risk imposed on healthcare workers in particular, during this pandemic. However, the health implications of COVID‐19 for the global workforce are multifaceted and complex, warranting careful reflection and consideration to mitigate the adverse effects on workers worldwide. Accordingly, our review offers a framework for considering this topic, highlighting key issues, with the aim to prompt and inform action, including research, to minimize the occupational hazards imposed by this ongoing challenge. We address respiratory disease as a primary concern, while recognizing the multisystem spectrum of COVID‐19‐related disease and how clinical aspects are interwoven with broader socioeconomic forces.

COVID‐19 deaths by occupation, Massachusetts, March 1–July 31, 2020

Source: Devan Hawkins, Letitia Davis, David Kriebel, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Early View, February 1, 2021

From the abstract:
Exposure to COVID‐19 is more likely among certain occupations compared with others. This descriptive study seeks to explore occupational differences in mortality due to COVID‐19 among workers in Massachusetts.

Death certificates of those who died from COVID‐19 in Massachusetts between March 1 and July 31, 2020 were collected. Occupational information was coded and age‐adjusted mortality rates were calculated according to occupation.

There were 555 deaths among MA residents of age 16–64, with usable occupation information, resulting in an age‐adjusted mortality rate of 16.4 per 100,000 workers. Workers in 11 occupational groups including healthcare support and transportation and material moving had mortality rates higher than that for workers overall. Hispanic and Black workers had age‐adjusted mortality rates more than four times higher than that for White workers overall and also had higher rates than Whites within high‐risk occupation groups.

Efforts should be made to protect workers in high‐risk occupations identified in this report from COVID‐19 exposure.

Tensions in State–Local Intergovernmental Response to Emergencies: The Case of COVID-19

Source: Bruce D. McDonald, III, Christopher B. Goodman, Megan E. Hatch, State and Local Government Review, OnlineFirst Published December 29, 2020
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The current outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19), has spurred a large governmental response from all levels of the U.S. intergovernmental system. The emergency and disaster response system of the United States is designed to be bottom-up, meaning responses are intended to begin at the local level with state and federal governments stepping in to assist with resources and oversight as needed (Rubin and Barbee 1985; Schneider 1995, 2008). The response to the current outbreak, however, has been something else entirely, as each level of government competes with the others over dwindling resources and the authority to respond to the crisis.

We examine how the U.S. intergovernmental system of emergency response is designed, how state and local governments have responded to the COVID-19 crisis thus far, and how this crisis has further exposed tensions in the state-local intergovernmental system. We use the National League of Cities’ (2020) COVID-19 Local Action Tracker to examine city and state responses to the pandemic. We argue state-local intergovernmental response is associated with many issues related to intergovernmental relations broadly, particularly conflict about the “best” emergency services provider. This leads some states to prefer a local response with state support and other states to prefer a more uniform, state-mandated response enabled by state preemption of local actions. The latter has revealed an often-dormant means of state preemption of local ordinances: the executive order preemption. Accessible through the emergency powers afforded to U.S. governors, this type of preemption is uncommon because it is overshadowed by legislative and judicial preemptions. This article seeks to explore descriptively the prevalence of executive order preemptions and discuss the implications of these preemptions in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These preemptions vary in their content, with some representing policy minimums, others maximums, and some a combination of the two. Yet all types of preemption have substantial effects on what local government administrators can do to respond to their constituency’s needs. Such constraints, when out of alignment with local needs, can be challenging in normal times but are potentially catastrophic in emergencies. Administrators will need to be creative in balancing responsiveness to their constituents within such a limiting policy environment.

COVID-19: The Potential Role of TANF in Addressing the Economic Effects

Source: Congressional Research Service, Insight, IN11241, Updated: December 4, 2020

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant provides grants to the 50 states, District of Columbia, American Indian tribes, and certain territories with the broad purpose of ameliorating and addressing root causes of childhood economic disadvantage. States may use TANF funds in any way they reasonably calculate could achieve the block grant’s statutory purpose. Some of the flexibility the block grant affords to states, tribes, and territories was used to address the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the deep economic recession of 2007-2009.

Responsibilities and Rights of Employers and Employees During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Source: Joseph Maya, Julia Audibert, Zachary Sipala, Caroline Vandis, Calvin Carson, and Emily Prudente, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 71, Issue No. 4, Winter 2020
(subscription required)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA), Equal Employment Opportunity laws (which encompass the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are long-standing pillars of employment law in this country. Collectively, they aim to ensure individual privacy, safe work environments, and equal treatment free from discrimination in the workplace. Given their appealing and sensical nature, it seems axiomatic that these statutes and agencies operate in concert. However, complying with their provisions during a global pandemic requires navigating murky waters. In practice, these laws present sometimes competing demands for many employers and employees trying to understand the new reality imposed by COVID-19. Striking an effective balance between these rights and responsibilities during the upheaval caused by COVID-19 incurs a host of relatively novel challenges. In this article, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. demystify how to serve the best interests of employers and employees and offer a comprehensive analysis of legal guidelines, both old and new, to inform our readers how to best achieve that balance.