The World Health Organization (WHO) announced research this week to suggest that short-range aerosol transmission coronavirus “cannot be ruled out,” particularly in specific indoor locations like crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons. Across the United States, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb. We take a closer look at several state and federal actions and reactions to these developments.
TIME TO GO OUTSIDE
Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) ordered all counties in California to close all bars and the indoor operations of businesses including restaurants, movie theaters, and museums. Also this week, Los Angeles and San Diego public schools announced they will start the school year remote-only in August. The Los Angeles system is the nation's second-largest school district, and the decisions together affect more than 700,000 students and their families.
RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that decisions by state education officials on whether to have students re-enter schools will come in the first week of August. In preparation, New York State, the Reimagine Education Advisory Council, and the Department of Health (DOH) are developing and finalizing “guiding principles” for reopening schools. The protocols included in the Empire State guidance will include practices related to the following: Masks/PPE; Social Distancing; Restructuring Space to Maximize In-Class Instruction; Transportation; Aftercare and Extracurricular Activities; Screening; Contact Tracing; and Disinfection.
MOTHER MAY I?
In South Florida, school officials are engaging and surveying parents to gauge their decision on whether they will send their kids to school this fall or have them study online from home. In Colorado, public school leaders in Denver will welcome students back to the classroom for in-person learning in about a month, but only after investing more than $5 million toward HVAC improvements, to help with air flow and filtration in classrooms.
CRACK THE WHIP
As school officials continue to evaluate re-occupancy policies and protocols, there is increasing pressure from the White House to open. At odds with the Trump administration, the CDC will not change its pending guidelines for reopening schools. The president criticized the current guidelines on grounds that they are “too tough and too expensive” for schools to implement. The CDC stresses these are guidelines and not requirements, but the health agency announced that it will release more information on how to keep students and teachers safe. We’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, back in Geneva, World Health Organization officials warned global leaders against turning the decision to reopen schools into a game of “political football.” In related news, hopes of diminishing the possible spread of COVID-19, the National Football League will offer a new mouth shield prototype for players to start testing as soon as this week. We’ll stay tuned to these evolving issues throughout the summer.
Keeping with educational issues, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling this week, by a vote of 7 to 2, that underscored the right of Catholic institutions to determine who is eligible to serve as a teacher or other functions in Catholic schools. The matters before the Court involved employment practices liability claims and turned on a principle called “ministerial exemption,” a concept rooted in the First Amendment that affords religious entities the right to choose their ministers. The majority held that religious education and formation, “is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools…therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission.”
The Court also ruled, again 7-2, in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor allowing a religious exemption under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for certain forms of contraceptives. The Trump Administration gave the Little Sisters an exemption from the ACA requirement, which some U.S. states refused to acknowledge. Pundits argue that the Supreme Court narrowly upheld the Trump administration exemption, not the merits of religious liberty, and could be amended by future administrations.
Making Our War Around the Count(ries)
Yesterday, the Trump administration rescinded a policy that would have stripped visas from international students whose courses moved exclusively online in the wake of the pandemic. Last week, several of the nation’s leading colleges and universities, along with a coalition of 17 states, brought forth a suit to challenge this U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) action. Commentators suggest that lawsuit leaned heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision last month to block the administration’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Immediately following yesterday’s rescission of the ICE rule, a federal district judge sitting in Boston, who was expected to preside over oral arguments in a case involving Harvard and MIT, announced this news to the courtroom, rendering the case moot.
Britain kicked off an information campaign urging its citizens and businesses to prepare for the Brexit transition period, which will end on December 31, 2020. The campaign is titled, “The UK’s new start: let’s get going.” Although Britain left the European Union (EU) on January 31, there has been no-change relationship with the EU. UK leaders have allocated $705 million pounds ($890 million) on new border infrastructure, six months before it needs to bolster border measures. The government is urging businesses to prepare, as a UK survey showed only a quarter of directors claiming full readiness. In one final note, the head of the Bank of England is looking at the possibility of issuing a digital currency stating this week that cryptocurrency will likely have “huge implications on the nature of payments and society.”
The Oregon Supreme Court validated the state’s civil damages cap this week. The case evolved out of a commercial vehicle-pedestrian accident. Doctors had to amputate the plaintiff’s leg above the knee and the Defendant admitted liability. The jury returned an award of more than $13 million, with non-economic damages exceeding $10.5 million. The defendant filed a motion to reduce the noneconomic damages award to $500,000.00 pursuant to Oregon’s liability cap statute. The trial court granted Plaintiff’s motion to reduce the noneconomic damages award, but the Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s award, citing that the cap violated the plaintiff’s rights to an adequate remedy under the state’s constitution.
State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D) introduced legislation that would mandate all officers in New York obtain liability insurance throughout their career. The local city and police agency would determine the base rate of the policy. Between July 2018 and June 2019, New York City paid out $220.1 million in settlements for 5,848 tort cases involving the NYPD, according to a report by New York City Comptroller, representing 36% of all tort claims against the city. Currently, no state or municipality has a liability insurance requirement for their police officers. In June, Colorado passed legislation that makes officers personally liable for up to $25,000 in damages in lawsuits related to misconduct.
KING OF THE HILL
We return to our main story this week. Although Congress is on a two-week recess, leaders on both sides of the aisle are lining up to debate the next legislative response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy. Senate Marjory Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing for $1 trillion in new aid, centered on liability protections, a top priority for Republicans seeking to shield doctors, schools, businesses, and others from coronavirus-related lawsuits brought by patrons claiming injuries during re-openings. Lawmakers resume session July 20. We’ll stay on ghoul and seek out these developments in Congress. Until next week, stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.