The ACLU of Massachusetts today released recommendations that government officials and other decisionmakers must consider to achieve a fair and effective response to COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The recommendations stress the protection of vulnerable populations, including workers, incarcerated people, and people who are economically vulnerable.

“Any coronavirus response should be grounded in science and public health, and not be politicized,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “It is essential that government officials help ensure a response plan that protects the health, safety, and civil liberties of all. If leaders want to be effective in limiting the transmission of coronavirus, they will need to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable people in our society.”

Public health and legal experts, including the ACLU, have advised that voluntary self-isolation measures are more likely to induce cooperation and protect public trust than coercive or mandated measures. Even if a quarantine is imposed, people do not lose their due process rights, which at a minimum require that they be able to challenge their quarantine.

In order to make voluntary compliance possible in the Commonwealth, the ACLU of Massachusetts recommends:

  • State and local law enforcement including the attorney general, district attorneys, and local police should reduce the number of people in state custody in order to prevent the virus from entering a prison or jail. Where possible, non-enforcement or citations should be prioritized over arrests;
  • Massachusetts Department of Correction and county houses of corrections should act to protect the public health of incarcerated people, including ensuring adequate cleaning supplies and access to medical care, and should coordinate with local public health officials to determine other appropriate measures to take;
  • ICE should halt immigration detentions to limit the spread of the virus in jails and detentions centers and to limit the hardships that the virus causes for immigrant communities;
  • State government, in conjunction with local and federal government, must ensure equal access to health care, including free and fair coronavirus testing. Policymakers must ensure that insurance barriers or lack of insurance do not inhibit testing or access to care;
  • Government and employers must ensure that people are protected from job loss and economic hardship. In order to encourage all people to cooperate with health officials and public health guidelines, the government and employers must provide social and economic support including strong paid family and medical leave policies and income support.