Governments and communities across the world are grappling with the immediate and longer-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone in the United States is impacted by this and many are experiencing hardship, sacrifice, illness or devastating loss as a result of this virus. Yet some of us are affected much more deeply as our country’s long-standing inequalities—including by gender, by race and by class—shape everything from who performs the “essential” functions of the economy to which communities suffer the greatest loss of life.  Our inequalities, which dictate so much of the fabric of everyday life, are magnified during this crisis. We need a people-centered response to COVID-19 that protects us all, and at the same time, also explicitly addresses our nation’s long-standing inequalities.

How we respond now to COVID-19 will determine not only our ability to survive—but whether or not we all can finally all thrive. The U.S. government’s response to COVID-19 must center human rights at all stages of the crisis—prevention, preparedness, containment, treatment and recovery—in order to best protect public health and support people who are most at risk. 

  1. We call on the government to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of people facing discrimination, marginalization, exclusion, poverty and inadequate medical care, including people of color, Indigenous People, people who are undocumented, people who are experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities. The government must also take concrete, deliberate and targeted actions to end discrimination and stigma, and to protect all individuals from mistreatment.

  2. The U.S. can finally achieve a system of universal, equitable, non-discriminatory health care; giving priority to a single-payer, publicly funded system to guarantee access to comprehensive, quality care for all people as a right and a public good. We must end the disproportionate impact of the healthcare crisis on people already marginalized due to socio-economic status, racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, Indigenous identity and other factors, and must include access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.

  3. The government must ensure that all workers have the personal protection equipment and all other supplies and materials they need to be safe, as well as an adequate standard of living, healthcare and hazard pay. This includes health workers, food service workers, store clerks, delivery workers, janitorial workers, transportation workers, warehouse workers and others who are continuing to work throughout the pandemic and who are at risk due to their work. The disproportionate numbers of and impact on frontline workers from communities of color, communities with lower incomes and others already experiencing human rights violations must also be addressed and rectified.

  4. Every person should have a standard of living that can ensure their health, dignity and well-being as well as that of their family. This includes the human rights to housing, food, water, clothing, education, necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond their control. The disproportionate impact of the U.S. government’s failure to ensure the right to an adequate standard of living on communities of color and others facing discrimination and marginalization must also be addressed and rectified.

  5. The government’s COVID-19 response should not exacerbate the climate crisis, environmental degradation, public health or environmental racism. EPA regulations should be strengthened and enforced, and economic recovery packages should facilitate a human rights-based transition to green energy, including by phasing out fossil fuels, supporting workers and centering the frontline communities most impacted by the climate crisis, including Indigenous Peoples, communities of color and youth, in analysis of the problem and in decisions about the solutions.

  6. No one should be locked up solely for seeking safety in the U.S., let alone during a global health crisis. The U.S. government must release all immigrants and asylum-seekers who are detained solely because of their immigration status. All families should be released together, and all children reunited expeditiously with their families and caregivers. Authorities must provide full healthcare and protection against COVID-19 for those who remain in detention. The U.S. must also put in place a fair and just asylum system, and end policies that push people at the southern border back into harm’s way and ignore U.S. obligations to offer them asylum and humanitarian protection.  It must restore its leadership in refugee protection and press other governments to welcome more refugees for resettlement and reverse policies that undermine protections for asylum-seekers.

  7. The federal government and states should release people in pretrial detention, those who have already served a portion of their sentence, and those who pose no threat, are elderly, or have underlying medical conditions. Decisions about who to release should take into account the disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on people of color. Alternatives for incarceration should be used whenever possible and full healthcare and protection against COVID-19 must be provided for those who remain in detention. Unlawful detention at Guantanamo must also end and healthcare and protection provided until then. The U.S. should also press other governments to free more people, including all prisoners of conscience—people held solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs or identity.

  8. The U.S. government has an obligation to prevent deaths from gun violence through a range of urgent measures, including delisting gun stores as essential businesses, passing universal background check legislation, ensuring an end to default gun sales and committing funding for gun violence prevention research as a public health issue and deploying sustained and adequate resources directly to communities disproportionately affected by the intersection of gun violence with COVID-19, including already marginalized communities of color grappling with higher rates of gun homicide and COVID-19 infections and deaths and domestic violence survivors who are at increased risk for gun violence in their homes due to quarantine measures across the country.

  9. While a coordinated national response to widespread testing is critical, neither the government nor private companies have carte blanche for unlawful, unnecessary or disproportionate surveillance or data collection, during a pandemic, or otherwise–and that includes communities of color already disproportionately impacted. Any surveillance related to the pandemic must be justified by legitimate public health needs and limited to only the information that’s necessary to respond to the pandemic—it should also only be used for and during the pandemic, and not a minute longer. This surveillance should also not be undertaken with secrecy—any measures must be completely transparent.

  10. The U.S. must reject any measures that violate the right to peacefully protest, to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right to information and truth, or the right to vote, and ensure that all people can enjoy these rights freely and safely without discrimination, including human rights defenders. The COVID-19 crisis must not be used as an excuse for authoritarianism, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else. The U.S. government should use its global influence to encourage other countries to fully respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of all people without discrimination, including in the context of the pandemic, and set a good example by doing so itself. The U.S. and all other governments must fully support the international human rights framework and fully meet their funding obligations to all relevant international organizations, especially all U.N. bodies and specialized agencies related to public health and human rights. Governments with greater resources have a special responsibility and interest to assist those governments that do not have the resources necessary to adequately respond to the pandemic.