The Arc, The Arc Wisconsin, and over thirty Wisconsin and national disability and aging advocacy organizations, represented by the law firm Munger Tolles & Olson, have filed an amicus brief with the Wisconsin Supreme Court explaining the significantly heightened risks to people with disabilities and older adults of experiencing life-threatening consequences from COVID-19. These heightened risks are further compounded by race, with African Americans more likely to have a disability than any other group and dying from the virus at twice the rate of the rest of the population. In Wisconsin, African Americans are 6% of the population, but 39% of deaths from COVID-19. Should the state’s stay-at-home order (“order”) be lifted prematurely, the disproportionate harm to people with disabilities and older adults would only worsen, putting thousands of lives in immediate danger, especially those living in group homes and congregate care settings.
“Re-opening cities and states too early against the advice of
state public health officials would increase spread of the virus and overwhelm
our health care system with a resurgence of COVID-19, with disproportionate and
devastating effects on people with disabilities and older adults, who are far
more likely to experience life-threatening consequences from the virus. The Arc
has been fighting tooth and nail to protect people with disabilities during
this pandemic, and any interference with state public health measures
significantly undermines the important progress that has been made nationwide,
with inevitably tragic results,” said Peter Berns, Chief Executive Officer of
“We are gravely concerned for the lives of Wisconsinites with
disabilities, older adults, and their support staff. We have heard from many
constituents across the state about the fears they have about this virus and
anxiety regarding experiencing discrimination in medical care if they end up
hospitalized. The Arc Wisconsin and our partner organizations have worked hard over
the last month to ensure the best possible outcomes for our constituents during
this pandemic and we simply cannot afford to go backwards,” said Lisa Pugh,
Executive Director of The Arc Wisconsin.
If the order
is lifted against the advice of public health officials, people with
disabilities and older adults—already at heightened risk of life-threatening
complications from the virus—will face even greater risks of harm due to:
with disabilities of any age are more likely to have underlying health
conditions that put them at greater risk of serious complications and death if
exposed to the virus.
Lack of Personal
Protective Equipment (PPE). People with disabilities and older adults, whether living in congregate
or community-based settings, often require assistance from a workforce that
cannot maintain social distance while supporting them in their daily
lives. The state and nationwide shortage
of PPE puts both staff and those they are supporting at higher risk of
contracting the virus, which will only be exacerbated if the order is lifted.
individuals with disabilities and older adults live in congregate settings such
as group homes, nursing homes, intermediate care facilities, and psychiatric
facilities. Congregate settings like these have seen rampant spread of the
disease and alarming death rates. If the
order is lifted, these numbers will only worsen due to greater community
exposure of staff coming in and out of the facilities and the potential lifting
of visitor restrictions to these facilities.
in medical care. People
with disabilities and older adults are at greater risk of being denied
life-saving medical care treatment if an uncontrolled outbreak forces rationing
of medical care, a situation in which people with disabilities and older adults
are more likely to be harmed due to a history of discrimination.
Homelessness. People with disabilities and older
adults also experience homelessness at a far greater rate than the rest of the
population, putting them at even greater risk as the CDC has identified
homelessness as an additional risk factor in contracting the virus.