Equity and Policy Preparedness During Public Health Emergencies

Emergencies, by definition, occur suddenly and without warning. Whether the situation involves an infectious disease like the current COVID-19 pandemic—or a natural disaster like the brutal hurricanes of recent years—these events can result in public health crises and disproportionately affect groups at higher risk of adverse outcomes or populations that have been marginalized such as communities of color, and those experiencing homelessness or in correctional facilities. State and territorial officials must maintain an understanding of key policy issues so that they are poised to protect these populations before, during, and after public health emergencies.

The National Governors Association, in collaboration with the American Bar Association, launched a webinar series on Equity and Policy Preparedness during Public Health Emergencies. Participants in all four webinars will consider lessons learned from past public health emergencies to inform their implementation of best practices for the future. This four-part webinar series will lead off in September as part of National Preparedness Month and will conclude in December. This work is funded by a cooperative agreement between the NGA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The content does not necessarily represent the views of NGA or CDC, and the information presented should not be construed as legal advice or guidance.

The guiding focus of this four-part series will be how responders can ensure equity and policy preparedness in the: 1) encouragement and enforcement of mitigation measures; 2) distribution and uptake of remedies and resources; 3) people experiencing homelessness; and 4) people who are incarcerated. Participants in all four webinars will consider lessons learned from past public health emergencies to inform their implementation of best practices for the future.


Webinar Presentations & Registration

Equity in Encouraging and Enforcing Mitigation Measures
Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 2:00 PM EDT

The first webinar focused on the importance of parity in mitigation measures during public health emergencies, especially when it comes to enforcement. Mitigation measures can save lives, especially within groups at higher risk of adverse outcomes or populations that have been marginalized. At the same time, it may be especially challenging for certain populations to abide by these measures, and current data suggest that during COVID-19, these communities are being disproportionately impacted by enforcement measures. Mitigation enforcement measures may include fines for failing to wear masks or abide by stay-at-home orders, opening non-essential businesses during closures, and more. States can take steps to ensure that encouragement (verses enforcement) is the first line of defense and that groups at higher risk of adverse outcomes or populations that have been marginalized are set up to succeed in the use of mitigation measures. At the same time, when enforcement is appropriate, it must be done equally across all communities in a jurisdiction. This webinar will explore the legal, policy, and ethical considerations of the encouragement and enforcement of such mitigation measures in the context of an ongoing public health emergency.


Equitable Distribution and Uptake of Remedies and Resources
Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 2:00 PM EDT

The second webinar will delve into the distribution and uptake of remedies and resources during public health emergencies. The discussion will center around how to ensure that the needs of the communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19, such as communities of color, are being met. The question of whether and how historical racism in medical research (e.g., the Tuskegee Study) influences the uptake of prevention measures in racial and ethnic minority communities will also be addressed, along with strategies to support uptake by these communities in the current COVID-19 context.


People Experiencing Homelessness
Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 2:00 PM EDT

The third webinar will examine services available to people experiencing homelessness in the context of public health emergencies, and the way in which laws and policies can both protect or negatively impact this vulnerable group. Not only can public health emergencies exacerbate homelessness itself, they can intensify chronic and acute consequences for individuals experiencing homelessness. People experiencing homelessness tend to have a higher prevalence of preexisting conditions that increase the risk of experiencing poorer outcomes once sick. Additionally, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in camps and shelters may increase viral transmission among people experiencing homelessness. The focus of this webinar will be to discuss the policies that can be put in place during public health emergencies to protect individuals experiencing homelessness.


People Who Are Incarcerated
Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 2:00 PM EDT

The fourth webinar in the series will focus on approaches to protecting people in custody at correctional services departments, who may be adversely affected during public health emergencies. For example, in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, individuals who are incarcerated have experienced much higher infection rates and mortality rates compared to the general U.S. population. Because people who are incarcerated are extremely vulnerable during public health emergencies, additional safety measures may be required. This discussion will highlight policies that can be put in place to protect those in custody at correctional services departments, as well as correctional officers and other staff during public health emergencies.