Ethics of COVID-19 Response and the Way Forward

ambulanceThe Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University seeks to connect public health expertise to economic, legal, philosophical/ethics expertise. As such, the Center provides teaching and research about pressing ethical issues surrounding the global outbreak of COVID-19. In response to the pandemic, the Center established the COVID-19 Response Initiative, bringing a cross-disciplinary bipartisan group of experts to address the most pressing challenges of the current crisis.

As part of this rapid response initiative, the Center released a series of white papers that “engage topics of societal goals, education, the economy, the health system, the temporality of planning, triage in the justice system, volunteerism, and social solidarity.” The most recent publication, Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience, outlines the nation’s first “comprehensive operational roadmap for mobilizing and reopening the U.S. economy in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.” Significantly, this roadmap emphasizes the role of massive testing, contact tracing, and supported social isolation (TTSI) as the keystone goal in renewal of mobility and mobilization of the U.S. economy.

Specifically, to achieve this strategy, the paper highlights the following key metrics:

  • Testing methodologies must utilize the latest technology;
  • A federal Pandemic Testing Board must secure the testing supply and necessary infrastructure;
  • Federal/state testing guidance should rely on due process, civil liberties, equal protection, non-discrimination, and privacy standards;
  • Local health leaders and other public officials require additional readiness frameworks in setting up testing and isolation infrastructure;
  • Innovation must connect at the local level to include cities, counties, and health districts;
  • Federal and state authorities need to further invest in contact tracing;
  • Necessary legislation must address governance and enforcement of data collection, prohibiting using such data for commercial purposes;
  • Individuals in quarantine must have access to additional job protection and medical care.

In addition, the authors recommend expanding the U.S. Public Health Service Corps and Medical (or Health) Reserves Corps and adding of Health Reserves Corps to the National Guard units of each state. Furthermore, the establishment of the National Infectious Disease Forecasting Center to modernize disease tracking is considered vital in preventing similar outbreaks in the future.

Additional papers in this series address the issues of law enforcement during a pandemic, mass testing and privacy, political economy, and securing democratic processes. To read the full collection of COVID-19 related papers from the Edmond J. Safra Center, follow this link.

For more information on related topics visit the HSDL Featured Topic on Pandemics and Epidemics or view other resources included in our COVID-19 Special Collection. Please note that an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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