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FEATURED ISSUE

Privacy: Contact Tracing Concerns

Abled.Issues: Illustration shows Apple and Google logo icons flanking a smartphone with an electron microscope image of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Tech giants Apple and Google have partnered on developing a track and trace app to halt the spread of the SARS-CoVid-2 coronavirus. It and the traditional method are raising privacy concerns. More below and in a video from the Washington Post

Privacy Vs. Public Safety

One of the buzz phrases bandied about with increasing frequency during the evolving C19 pandemic is “contact tracing”, also called “track and trace”.

Merriam-Webster defines it as “the practice of identifying and monitoring individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person as a means of controlling the spread of a communicable disease.”

The phrase first appeared in the dictionary in 1931, and the process comes down to basic gumshoe work: find (or track) the people who are sick, get a list of people they’ve had contact with and then trace them to let them know they might be infected.

And in the case of COVID-19, ask them to quarantine for 14 days. Such an approach is supposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But the scale of over 2 million cases of coronavirus infection world-wide, obliterates traditional approaches that have no hope of keeping up.

Enter modern-day technology.

While health authorities around the world have been working to build or acquire third-party apps that can achieve this, tech giants Apple and Google, whose operating systems run on the majority of smartphones, have announced they have been working together to accomplish this at global scale. 

Apple, the developer of the iOS operating system for its iPhones and iPads, and Google, the developer of the Android Operating System are looking to release an API (Application Programming Interface) by mid-May which would allow apps to run on either OS.

Phase two would see the functionality built into each OS platform so that no app would need to be downloaded by the user.

To alleviate privacy concerns, the tech giants say digital ID’s would be stored on remote servers, but could not be unmasked, with the contract-matching being de-centralized on the phones themselves.

That means someone who’s been in contact with an infected person could be advised to go into self-isolation without anyone else being notified. That’s in contrast to the traditional methods employed by public health agencies via telephone as outline in the previous video.

Still, it raises concerns about cybersecurity, and given China’s attempt to cover any tracks that point to their potential responsibility or liability in the outbreak, there’s no doubt that it’s conceivable to worry about possible government-backed hackers trying to infiltrate and disrupt the system.

BBC News has done-up a great infographic on digital contact tracing. Click on the image below to see an enlarged version.

Abled.Tech: BBC Infographic on digital contact tracing in six panels. 1. Jane and John do not know each other but chat for 10 minutes in a park. 2. Their smartphones automatically exchange an anonymous key code. 3.A few days later, John tests positive for COVID-19 and declares his status in an app. 4. With consent, John's phone sends his anonymous key code to a central database. 5. Jane's phone downloads the central database and checks for matching key codes. 6. Jane's phone alerts her that somebody she has met has tested positive.

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CURRENT ISSUES

Rights: The Right To Live

Alabama residents (above) Susan Ellis and her son Matthew Foster, who has Down syndrome, worry he could be last in line for a ventilator if he gets severe COVID-19 infection. Advocates say half of states have policies that are discriminatory, including “do not resuscitate” orders for some patients.

No Ventilators For Disabled?

With hospitals across the U.S. running low or running out of available ventilators, as well as last-resort drug supplies, the prospect of making hard choices about who gets treated for COVID-19 infection and who doesn’t is raising real fears among disability rights groups.

So much so, that several have filed civil rights complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights. They claim that plans or proposals to ration ventilator access in Alabama and Washington State will discriminate against disabled Americans, violating their rights and putting their lives at risk.

Ivanova Smith, who has an intellectual disability, is one of the people making a complaint. She told NPR, “There’s been a long history of people with intellectual, development mental disabilities having our medical care denied.”

“Because we’re not seen as valuable,” she said. “We’re not seen as productive or needed. When that’s not true.”

Alabama’s Emergency Operations Plan , also a subject of a complaint, focuses on managing access to ventilators during an event that the governor deems a public health crisis.

The protocol lists several health conditions for which providers should “not offer mechanical ventilator support,” including heart failure, respiratory failure and metastatic cancer. It also says “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support.”

The complaint by the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and The ARC of the United States claims this policy discriminates against people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities in violation of federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

James Tucker, director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, said in a press release, “In this time of crisis, we cannot devalue the lives of others in our community based on their disabilities. It’s morally wrong, and it violates the law.”

Health officials say the trigger for rationing care, or invoking what are known as “crisis standards,” will be when there are more COVID-19 patients than ventilators.

The Center for Public Integrity has taken an in-depth look at these issues, published in partnership with the Daily Beast.

Reporter Liz Essley Whyte points out that “policies in 25 states would ration care in ways disability advocates have denounced. The remaining 20 states either have not established rationing policies or did not release them.

Doctors and medical ethics experts say these states need to have policies in place now, before coronavirus cases peak, and should not cloak them in secrecy.

Expecting doctors to make heart-rending decisions on who lives and who dies, experts say, runs the risk that they will lean on personal biases and stereotypes, even unwittingly.”

Dr. Tia Powell, a physician and bioethicist, helped to write a 255 page document of voluntary guidelines for hospitals in 2015 as part of New York State’s Task Force on Life and Law. In the 6th video below, she tells Vice News that she agrees that the decision of who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t shouldn’t be left to doctors.

UPDATE:

In response to the complaints, the State of Alabama is withdrawing its ventilator rationing policy and instructing hospitals that they cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in accessing treatment.

 

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Rights: Safety On The Frontline

Frontline doctors, nurses and other health care staff are being disciplined, suspended or fired for refusing to treat COVID-19 patients unless they are given proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Should they even have to choose between duty to their patients and their own personal safety?

Protecting Our Heroes

How many frontline healthcare workers across the United States have died because of exposure to the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus while treating COVID-19 patients?

Nobody knows. At least not in an accurate way.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put the number at 27, out of an estimated 9,200 healthcare workers who’ve tested positive for infection.

But the numbers come from a small collection of test results, and health officials admit they have no centralized, coordinated way to track healthcare fatalities from the pandemic.

The best they can do is give an estimate based on more comprehensive tracking by some states of the occupations of people who test positive, and about 11% of those are healthcare workers.

More and more doctors and nurses on the frontlines are speaking out about their fears and frustrations of being vulnerable to potentially fatal infection because of the dwindling or non-existent amounts of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

Some are being reprimanded, suspended, and in some cases – fired for refusing to treat COVID-19 patients if they don’t have access to proper PPE, especially N95 respirator masks which are said to block about 95% of the small virus particles that become airborne when a patient coughs or sneezes.

The nurses say they are being forced to use surgical masks which won’t provide the same level of protection, or nothing at all. And in both cases, there are no guarantees they will prevent viral infection.

Much of this is based on guidance from the CDC. Janelle Griffith of NBC News reports on what that guidance is, and how it’s forcing more nurses across the country to protest what they call unsafe working conditions.

And The Guardian newspaper in London is collaborating with Kaiser Health News on a special series “Lost On The Frontline” as it chronicles the tragic cases of America’s healthcare workers who are dying on the frontlines.

The project aims to document the life of every health care worker in America who dies from COVID-19. If you have a colleague or loved one you think they should include, please share their story.

GetUsPPE is a grassroots coalition of volunteers mobilized to address the PPE shortage and get healthcare heroes the protection they need.

Click here if you need PPE. Click here if you have PPE to donate.
 

 

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Rights: Food Workers’ Safety

Abled.Issues: Photos of workers standing side by side on processing lines in a poultry plant.

Meat processing plants have become bigger hotspots than nursing homes for COVID-19 infection because of close-quarters working conditions. And with U.S. President Donald Trump invoking a Korean War – era law to re-open closed plants, will workers return and will protections be enough?

Worker Safety vs Food Supply

COVID-19 infection is forcing a poultry processing plant in Delaware to kill up to 2 million chickens on farms because too many workers are off sick. The Allen Harim plant is down to 50% capacity.

It says it is forced to “depopulate” chicken flocks in the field, which is industry-speak for killing birds without sending them to market. The company has also reduced the number of eggs and chicks placed with its growers on the farms.

The company’s Director of Live Operations, Michele V. Minton, said in a letter to Growers, “We are no longer able to harvest the amount of birds needed daily or weekly to maintain target weights and ages.”

The news comes as other meat processing plants close, dairy farmers are forced to dump milk, vegetable farms are forced to plow crops under, all because of a combination of reduced demand from restaurant closures and reduced staffing because of coronavirus infection.

Journalist Jessica Lussenhop has just done an in-depth report for BBC News that’s worth a read: Coronavirus at Smithfield pork plant: The untold story of America’s biggest outbreak.

**UPDATE:

And this week comes a special report from USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting that finds over 150 of the largest meat packing plants in the U.S. are operating in counties with C19 infection rates 75% higher than other counties in the country.

The result? At least 2,200 workers at 48 plants have tested positive for COVID-19 infection. 17 have died, forcing the closure of at least 17 plants.

This angers, but doesn’t surprise workers, unions and managers who have long complained about poor working conditions and lax safety standards along overcrowded assembly lines that are allowed to run too fast.

All this has already impacted output – beef production is down 19% from this time last year, although some industry analysts say that the typical 2.5 billion pounds of meat and poultry housed tin commercial freezers as they move along the supply chain provides enough flexibility and redundancy to avoid mass shortages, others point out that’s only about one week’s supply of meat.

 

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CURATED VIDEOS

Workers' Rights

As more states ease restrictions and allow businesses to reopen, it raises questions about what rights workers have during the coronavirus pandemic.

CBSN legal contributor Keir Dougall, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District, joins Anne-Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers of CBSN to discuss the options for concerned workers.

C19 vs The Constitution

On Wednesday, April 8, Georgetown Law’s Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) presented a live panel discussion – followed by Q&A – on: “COVID-19 vs. the Constitution: How Far Can Governors Go to Fight the Virus?

The race to beat back the COVID-19 pandemic has been likened to a war, and as in wartime, the powers of both the federal executive and the governors in a public health emergency are very broad.

During these early days, leaders and the general public have had little time to think about how far government can go in ignoring federalism principles and constitutional protections of individual rights.

Governors have threatened to shut their borders and sent National Guard troops to meet domestic flights at airports. Roadblocks have been set up. The president briefly floated the idea of banning travel out of the New York area.

And governors and mayors are competing with each other and FEMA to purchase vital medical and personal protective equipment.

With decisions made now setting precedent for a later date, expert panelists will review the scanty relevant case law; discuss the federal public health laws governing quarantine and travel limits; consider what powers governors have to limit individual rights and to keep nonresidents out; and explore how constitutional principles on the right to travel; privileges and immunities; and due process could be invoked.

PANELISTS:

Meryl Chertoff (moderator) – Executive Director, Georgetown Law’s Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) at Georgetown

Law Esha Bhandari – Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech Privacy & Technology Project

Lawrence O. Gostin – University Professor, Faculty Director, O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law

Juliette Kayyem – Senior Belfer Lecturer in International Security, Harvard Kennedy School; former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security;

CNN National Security Analyst Jeffrey Locke – Homeland Security and Public Safety Program Director, National Governors’ Association (NGA)

Job Rights in Canada

Employment Lawyer Lior Samfiru explains what your employee rights are as businesses start to reopen across Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do employees have to return to work if their employer asks them to? What rights does an employee have if a workplace isn’t safe from COVID-19?

Can I be forced back to work if I don’t have childcare? Can my employer force me to return to a modified job? Can my employer force me to undergo a temperature check at work to determine if I have COVID-19?

What are my employment rights if I can’t work because I have come into contact with somebody who has the coronavirus?

Samfiru, an employment lawyer and partner at Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, joined Antony Robart on Global News, where he discussed various aspects of an employee’s return to work as Canada seeks to restart the economy.

 

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