New Report: Wayne Law professor and other top legal experts find U.S. policy response to COVID-19 dangerously lacking, recommend steps to safeguard health, civil and human rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the nation continues to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in over 170,000 deaths so far and a severe economic recession, Wayne State University Law School Associate Professor Lance Gable and other top national experts offer a new assessment of the U.S. policy response to the crisis.

The research details the widespread failure of the country’s leadership in planning and executing a cohesive, national response, and how the crisis exposed weaknesses in the nation’s health care and public health systems.

In Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19, the authors also offer recommendations on how federal, state and local leaders can better respond to COVID-19 and future pandemics. Their proposals include how to strengthen executive leadership for a stronger emergency response, expand access to public health, health care and telehealth; fortify protections for workers; and implement a fair and humane immigration policy. 

“The United States has failed to mount an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gable. “This failure is in part from inadequate leadership, but also stems from decades of neglecting to support our public health systems and infrastructure. Our government has the tools to change course and recover from this catastrophe. This report outlines dozens of recommendations for legislative and executive branch officials to implement now, and we hope they will act.”   

Sponsored by the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association, the report was produced by Public Health Law Watch in cooperation with Wayne State University Law School, Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University Beasley School of Law, Center for Health Policy and Law, Northeastern University School of Law, the Hall Center for Law and Health, the Network for Public Health Law and ChangeLab Solutions.

Expert assessments in the report show that our country’s failure in COVID-19 response in many ways has been a legal failure. Key findings include:

  • Ample legal authority has not been properly used in practice – evidence shows a massive failure of executive leadership and implementation at the federal level, and in many states and localities.
  • Decades of pandemic preparation overemphasized the development of plans and failed to account for how severe budget cuts to public health, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to state and local health departments, would drive outcomes. These budget cuts were combined with political interference that had a deleterious effect on the operational readiness of the nation’s local, state and federal health agencies. 
  • Legal responses have failed to prevent racial and economic disparities in the pandemic’s toll, and in some cases aggravated them.

This report provides critical legal analysis and recommendations, rooted in empirical evidence and expert analysis. Each author wrote about how the law has been used, misused or under-used in the response to COVID-19. It addresses not just the legal doctrine, but also matters of implementation, including both the use of strategies and resources. The authors express concern with the efficacy of containing COVID-19, as well as protecting human and civil rights, equity and ethics.

The authors provide more than 100 recommendations for legal action in response to COVID-19. These include calls for urgent action now, as well as longer term changes that reflect the way the pandemic has exposed deeper problems in American law and policy. They include recommendations for federal, state and local levels.  

In addition to serving on the editorial committee, Gable is the author of “Mass Movement, Business and Property Control Measures,” in Part I: Using Government Powers to Control the Pandemic, and “Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources and Crisis Standards of Care” in Part IV: Assuring Access to Medicines and Medical Supplies.

For the complete news release, list of authors and additional information about the report, visit Public Health Law Watch.

To view the full report, visit 

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Contact (report): Liz Voyles, Brass Ring Communications,, 202-297-9641

Contact (Lance Gable): Kaylee Place, Wayne State University Law School,, 313-577-4629

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