RE: COVID-19 Response Planning
Dear Honorable Governor Parson and Honorable Members of the Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention,
As Missouri gathers resources and establishes plans to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 within its borders, we hope that you will consider the ACLU of Missouri as a resource in your work to develop a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all.
We recognize that 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. Specifically, blanket statements that stoke fear and could deprive Missourians of the right to petition their government should be avoided. If legislative leaders feel it is no longer safe for Missourians to travel to the state capitol and advocate for their freedoms and in their best interests, the legislature should recess or find meaningful opportunities for public input. The legislature is the people’s house and continuing to conduct business while severely restricting public access and input threatens our democracy.
As you may know, in early March, 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.”1 This letter includes recommendations to federal, state, and local leaders on achieving a fair and effective response to the coronavirus outbreak. Individuals must not lose their due process rights, including the right to challenge any quarantine.
The recommendations also stress the need to protect vulnerable populations.
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 corrections officials, those incarcerated have little ability to inform themselves about preventive measures, or to take such measures if they do manage to learn of them. We encourage all those tasked with emergency response to this outbreak to actively engage with the Missouri Department of Corrections as well as local correctional facilities to ensure that those who are incarcerated are receiving appropriate information, that preventative measures are being taken, and that care is accessible and timely.
COVID-19 does not care who is insured or uninsured or what the immigration status of an individual is. The state must make sure that all Missourians have equal access to treatment- it is in the best interest of all. Health care facilities must be declared “immigration enforcement-free zones” --- and that declaration must be well-publicized particularly in light of immigration raids just this past weekend throughout our state. Our response must focus on treatment and prevention without causing unnecessary and unproductive fears of prosecution.
Information regarding COVID-19 must be 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. Political leaders must also provide strong leadership to counter racist and inaccurate information that may seek to divide our response rather than unite Missourians in our efforts to stop COVID-19.
Finally, voluntary isolation measures are generally more effective than coercive measures. While the use of a mandatory quarantine may be justified if it is scientifically supported, proportional, and used as a specific response to violations of voluntary measures, people are more likely to cooperate with voluntary isolation measures rather than with blanket, overly broad quarantines.
It is essential that all government officials follow these experts’ recommendations to help ensure a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all. Our country has a pattern of curtailing rights in times of crisis and fear. We can respond and respect civil liberties.We are available to meet and discuss your COVID-19 response planning and will be watching closely to make sure that the government’s response is scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Luz María Henríquez
Executive Director, ACLU of Missouri