As Hoosiers begin to take extra precautions against COVID-19, so too has Indiana state and local government.
Governor Holcomb announced early on that the state would be placed in a state of public health emergency. And as additional steps are taken, public officials must ensure information regarding COVID-19 is transparent and timely. Political leaders will be more likely to maintain public trust and cooperation if their public statements are accurate and based in science.
During a disease outbreak individual rights may give way to the greater good. But the use of measures that deprive individuals of their liberty must be scientifically supported and proportional. And, individuals must not lose their due process rights. The ACLU of Indiana will keep a close eye on the actions taken by government officials to ensure protection of the health, safety, and civil liberties of all Hoosiers.
On Monday, March 2, a group of over 800 public health experts and organizations signed a public letter warning that widespread transmission of Covid-19 within the United States is “inevitable.” This letter includes recommendations to federal, state, and local leaders on achieving a fair and effective response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The recommendations stress the need to protect vulnerable populations.
COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected certain vulnerable communities, with significantly higher rates of infection, serious illness, and death among people living in congregate care settings, those incarcerated in prisons, jails, and immigration detention, and—at a broader level—people in communities of color. The ACLU of Indiana, along with several partner organizations sent a letter to Governor Holcomb, offering recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine distribution to particularly vulnerable Hoosiers, including individuals who are incarcerated.
Indiana’s vaccine-distribution plan cannot be considered fair or equitable if it does not take into account, and attempt to redress, the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on these at-risk communities. Decisions regarding which populations are prioritized must be made via a transparent, evidence-based, and impartial process that includes input from these impacted communities.
People who are incarcerated
People in prisons and jails are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses. They are housed in close quarters and are often in poor health. Without the active engagement of the prison administration, they have little ability to inform themselves about preventive measures, or to take such measures if they do manage to learn of them. We are particularly concerned because incarcerated individuals have historically faced harm during emergencies.
Marion county law enforcement has been directed to issue summonses in lieu of outright arrests for non-violent misdemeanors. This type of cite & release policy should be adapted throughout the state.
Individuals without insurance or paid leave
In addition, all Hoosiers at greater risk when people are unable to afford testing and treatment. Diseases like COVID-19 do not distinguish between people with comprehensive health insurance policies and those without. To limit the transmission of the virus, responses to COVID-19 must ensure that all people have access to testing and treatment.
Indiana must support people who cannot afford to miss work or lack paid sick leave. All Hoosiers face increased risk if people hide their condition and go to work because they cannot afford to miss a paycheck. The government must work with employers to ensure that workers are supported in voluntarily staying home when sick, even if they’re not sick enough to go to the hospital.
COVID-19 does not care who is undocumented. Health care facilities must be declared “immigration enforcement-free zones” --- and that declaration must be well-publicized. Indiana’s response must dismantle all barriers to testing and treatment, including the fear within immigrant communities that an individual could be picked up by ICE if they seek medical help.
Let Hoosiers Vote Absentee
Due to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, Hoosier voters will encounter a variety of barriers to the ballot. Indiana Election officials must do everything they can to ensure every Hoosier has the means to safely execute their fundamental right to vote this November. Hoosiers must have access to no-excuse absentee voting in the 2020 general election, and other barriers must be addressed in order for every Hoosier to cast their ballot, successfully.
Finally, voluntary isolation measures are more effective than coercive measures. While the use of a mandatory quarantine may be justified if it is scientifically supported and proportional, people are more likely to cooperate with voluntary isolation measures. Indiana government’s response should be scientifically justified and no more intrusive than absolutely necessary.
It is essential that all government officials follow public health experts’ recommendations to help ensure a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all.