Justice is Essential

OPINION

BY MEGAN MANSELL

Equality is about perceived enoughness. Normally, we’re quick to claim there’s no true disparity between our social classes, but if COVID has taught us anything, it is that we now have clearly-defined castes, with the lives of many “essential workers” ranked at the bottom. These workers are controlled by mandates that expressly go against current U.S. disability and workers’ rights law, turning them into the modern-day equivalent of indentured servants. How will they know to fight for themselves if they know something is amiss but don’t know what to do about it?

One scary thing we’re seeing everywhere is required mask use on pregnant women. This is dangerously uncharted territory; it would be difficult to even get approval for a study of this practice since causing pregnant women to decrease their blood oxygen level and risk anomalies in their unborn babies (such as cerebral palsy) is an ethics violation if I ever saw one. 

One of the biggest atrocities coming into focus is the rising rate of stillbirths among industrialized nations. Oxygenation levels are closely monitored throughout pregnancy and labor to help detect fetal distress, and time is of the essence when dealing with deoxygenation of the unborn. But women in need of work are routinely being denied their ADA right to reasonable accommodation that would allow them to breathe in an unrestricted fashion while performing their duties. It is incredibly difficult to find work when with child. Who will help the voiceless mothers who do not know of this unintended harm?

Their older school-age children have to sit masked, distanced, taught to fear their peers in our public school systems, with dangerously-inappropriate masks being worn for extended periods. In extended-day programs in mask-mandating counties, some children must mask for up to 12 hours per day. This can cause damage to the respiratory tract, and the masks used on children are in no way approved for filtering airborne contagion. Additionally, speech, emotional, and interpersonal communication development rely on seeing faces in order to develop appropriate social cues.

Not only are children not being saved by masking, they are facing a direct threat to their young, often vulnerable bodies, especially after extended time in isolation. These children in full-day programs are also those who are most likely to have limited access to nutritive, nourishing food. Our disillusioned education system puts in place rules, such as 14-day quarantines for entire classes when one child tests positive, that make it impossible for families to plan for the care of their children while they work. 

Who is supposed to watch these children? Do you know what children do when left home alone? They explore. They find the things hidden away that you thought they couldn’t reach. Things that go boom.

I have experienced the grief of a community riddled with fatherlessness and youth crime; it begets multigenerational pain and suffering. There are many better options than our nation’s current disastrous reopening models, and in order to reopen in a way that best serves all of our students and their families, we must acknowledge that there are many qualifying exemptions to masking, and we can use IEP or 504 plan accommodations that give our learners the right to a truly least-restrictive educational environment, as is their right under IDEA law (but I think “being a child” is qualifier enough). 

If equality is to have a chance, whether for man or child or the unborn, we must begin seeing all of our lives as worthy of a fighting chance. Have you met a single child that you wished had to go to bed hungry or unclean?  Have you met any person that, even if a complete and total jerk, you thought should be forced to die alone, surrounded by masked strangers? Do you wish on any family for the funeral of a loved one to be postponed indefinitely, until their spark has long escaped into the ether and mourning is done in isolation instead of on the wet shoulder of a friend? 

I’ve been punched in the head at a funeral. I’ll take that over this systemic mistreatment of people too scared to speak up when they feel wronged because no one ever taught them how, with the clock ticking until the damages are irreversible.

Yet I celebrate that the United States is different from the rest of the world because ADA specifies that one cannot be discriminated against based on contagious or noncontagious disease. ADA specifies that you must be reasonably accommodated to work or engage in commerce without threat, coercion, or harassment. 

A direct threat is not the mere presence of a contagious individual but that person engaging in a behavior that truly increases risk of injury.  All individuals with qualifying conditions for exemption can still expect to engage in commerce and daily life without discrimination. A restaurant, for example, provides the essential service of feeding the populace. It is a reasonable accommodation to meet someone at a door or have a drive-up service. It is a violation of ADA right to reasonable accommodation to deny service outright. 

However, direct threat can be argued in proximity- or touch-based services. In a spa setting, for instance, clientele who cannot or do not mask could be considered a direct threat because proximity is unavoidable. Handing someone a bag out a door is not the same as giving someone a facial.

In order to best accommodate all our people and the safety of our most vulnerable, I believe we all need to agree on a few immediate changes.

No masks on pregnant women. No masks on babies. No masks on children for 12 hours per day. No masks on drivers, especially bus drivers and pilots. 

It should also be echoed repeatedly that all masks are not created equal. People who are required to be in PPE for extended periods of time for jobs requiring COVID-size particulate filtration do not wear N95 masks if they take their health seriously. Self-contained units with a filtered air line are commonplace in these settings. 

We also must address the masks themselves, which make COVID-sized particles more airborne during a plosive force generating event (a sneeze, cough, or scream) within a mask, as COVID at .06-1.4 microns is pressurized through openings that are 4 microns or greater (as found in surgical and cloth masks). Only particles too large to exit those openings are being withheld by the masks, and the masks most people are wearing do not filter COVID on inhale. You are left with many people who think they are safe, let their guard down, and are being led to blindly engage in risk due to widespread misinformation on mask efficacy and mandates. 

In order to save lives, we have to address what we’re doing wrong and why, and we then accommodate chaos by giving voices to all parties as equals.  Because that’s what ADA is about. I haven’t seen anyone scream at a complete stranger for using a wheelchair ramp, but I’ve seen a lot of people needing a reminder that we cannot give one another what we don’t have (COVID), and taunting and harassing those nude-faced among us makes those of us suffering invisible afflictions such as torture, bound rape, COPD, vertigo, Autism, asthma, and PTSD feel unwelcome and discriminated against with every unencumbered breath we take. Our COVID mitigation efforts exacerbate this issue, and when our leading medical experts (other than Dr. Scott Atlas) have shrugged their shoulders for 8 months, it’s time to listen to people who know about things other than the medical side of COVID. 

Mandates do not rewrite federal law. They do not exempt local governments from dealing with the populations they serve with dignity and reverence, even if omnipresence and brute force are tempting tools during a state of emergency. 

Megan Mansell is a former district education director over special populations integration, serving students who are profoundly disabled, immunocompromised, undocumented, autistic, and behaviorally challenged; she also has a background in hazardous environs PPE applications. She is experienced in writing and monitoring protocol implementation for immunocompromised public sector access under full ADA/OSHA/IDEA compliance. She can be reached at MeganKristenMansell@Gmail.com.