COVID-19 Has Laid Bare Our Inhumane Treatment of Incarcerated People and Their Families

by Kristen Kovach, WFU JD Candidate ’21

Michael opened his email on a dreary Tuesday morning. Casually scrolling through the spam messages between sips of coffee, his eyes paused on one message sent to him in the early hours of the morning. “I think your brother is dead,” the subject line read.

Michael froze. His heart pounded in his chest. Sweat beaded on his forehead and dampened his palms. His brother, Todd, had been in prison for drug possession since 2018. The brothers had not spoken in a while. But that’s because it’s just hard to get in contact with prisoners, Michael thought. There’s no way he’s dead.

The email came from his brother’s cellmate, Greg, who said that Michael’s brother had been sick for a while. Todd had been coughing terribly, complaining that his chest hurt, and suffering from a bad fever. Todd thought he had COVID. Two weeks ago, the medics came for Todd. Yesterday, the guards came for Todd’s belongings. Todd never came back.

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Right to Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Oluwatemilorun Adenipekun, WFU S.J.D. Candidate ’21

COVID-19 is a serious global challenge, but it is also a wake-up call for the revitalization of universal human rights principles. Governments should ensure that response measures to this novel virus do not target or discriminate against any groups, and that responses are inclusive of and respect the rights of marginalized groups, including people with disabilities and the elderly. Also, governments should guarantee equal access to emergency services for these groups, while working on combating stigma and discrimination by using mass media and school networks to expand public awareness of human rights, recognizing that the virus knows no boundaries and recognizes no distinction.

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North Carolina’s Extended Limits of Confinement: Woefully Underutilized in the Face of COVID-19

by Remy Servis, WFU JD/MA in Bioethics Candidate ’22

Amidst the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, incarcerated people have been one of the most at-risk subgroups[1], contracting the virus at a rate five times higher than the national average.[2] Due to overcrowded conditions in prisons and jails, this population has limited opportunity to effectively socially distance, and infection rates are exacerbated by squalid conditions, limited testing, and violence within correctional facilities.[3] Incarcerated persons represent a more vulnerable sector of the population, reflecting the disparities in social determinants of health that affect groups more likely to be incarcerated: racial minorities, those with unstable housing, and those with mental illness.[4] In particular, prisoners over the age of fifty-five experience a uniquely threatening sum of risk due to the uncontroverted finding that COVID-19 has been particularly deadly to older adults, with 80% of deaths in US occurring in patients aged sixty-five and older.[5]

Early in the pandemic, advocates across the country began to call for the early release of incarcerated people who pose a low risk to society, including the elderly and nonviolent.[6] Scholars highlighted how this type of release would assist with “flattening the curve” by removing volume from correctional institutions which are “notorious incubators and amplifiers of infectious diseases.”[7] Regarding the provision of early release, North Carolina has two laws on the books: “Medical Release of Inmates”, passed in 2008 and codified at N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1369, and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 148-4, which provides for state discretion in granting “Extended Limits of Confinement” (ELC). Both of these statutory options have their strengths and weaknesses, but the state has chosen to utilize its more amorphous powers under ELC to mitigate the release of select inmates. However, due to disappointingly narrow release criteria, only about 300 inmates (out of 34,000 total in state facilities) have been granted this ELC privilege.[8] Meanwhile, 3,000 inmates, or close to 10% of the prison population, have tested positive.[9] The ELC law, as it is currently formulated, is a lackluster response from the state of North Carolina to the threat of coronavirus in the state prison population. These ELC policies and eligibility criteria should be appropriately modified given the deadly context of this pandemic and any future virulent public health emergencies.

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Convalescing in the Era of COVID-19

by Carley Fisher, WFU JD Candidate ’21

COVID-19 reached U.S. shores sometime early this year; the first laboratory confirmed test was discovered on January 20, 2020 and reported to the CDC two days later.  To date, the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has risen to over 8 million, with over 200,000 lives tragically lost.

The end of the disease is not yet in sight, and while countries have remained innovative in their approach to caretaking, an early concern still exists: will patients be able to obtain hospital access? This question is as important to non-COVID-19 related patients as it is to COVID-19 patients, and the issue becomes especially acute in the face of a pandemic surge.

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The Disproportionate Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Black Americans

by Madison Woschkolup, WFU JD Candidate ’21

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the United States is immense, but this impact has been disproportionately felt by Black communities. In thirty-three states and the District of Columbia, Black people comprise a higher proportion of COVID-19 cases relative to the percentage of the state’s population they make up.[1] In Maine, for example, Black people account for 21% of the state’s total COVID cases, even though only 1% of the state’s total population is Black.[2] In comparison, in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of each state’s total COVID cases attributable to white people remains well below the relative percentage of white people in the state. This state-by-state trend extends nationally as well. As of June 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 21.8% of COVID-19 cases in the United States were Black individuals, despite the fact that this group only represents 13% of the total population.

It is widely recognized that health outcomes of communities of color are objectively worse than those of white communities.[3] In addition to experiencing an increased risk of contracting the virus, Black Americans are also experiencing the highest actual COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide, more than double the mortality rate of their white counterparts.[4] As of August, 1 in 1,125 Black Americans has died from COVID-19, or 88.4 deaths per 100,000.[5] For perspective, the mortality rate for white Americans was 40.4 deaths per 100,000.[6] This gap only increases when the data are adjusted for age differences within the race groups.[7]

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Cybersecurity Concerns Impacting Telemedicine During The COVID-19 Pandemic

By Nnaemeka Obiagwu, 2021 J.D. Candidate

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, telemedicine has been brought to the limelight because it provides an opportunity for patients to have access to quality care remotely, particularly patients that need to be quarantined as a result of the outbreak. Given that data breaches are a critical issue for the health care industry and with telemedicine being offered online, it is understandable why patients are uncomfortable with sharing personal information with their providers. Last year, the healthcare sector saw a whopping 41.4 million patient records breached fueled by a 49 percent increase in hacking, and in the first half of 2020, 41 healthcare providers reported falling victim to ransomware.

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