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Coronavirus Is Surging; Lawsuits Are Not


Welcome to the latest edition of “Corporate Accountability, Not Immunity,” a daily tipsheet highlighting key news and important facts on why Congress should not give corporations legal immunity from coronavirus-related harms to workers, consumers, patients and the public. Also refer to our tipsheet on misleading claims from industry groups and conservative lawmakers. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at drosen@citizen.org.

MORE THAN 16,000 WORKERS AT MEAT AND POULTRY PLANTS HAVE BEEN INFECTED: More than 16,000 workers at meat and poultry processing plants in 23 states were diagnosed with coronavirus during April and May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Food & Environment Reporting Network believes case numbers among meat processing plant workers and farmworkers may be much higher. Instead of pushing for clear, enforceable standards to protect these workers and their families, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to give these processing plants immunity from liability, regardless of whether they take reasonable steps to prevent the spread of the virus in their facilities.

AZAR USES FALSE CLAIM TO JUSTIFY SCHOOLS REOPENING: On Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar claimed that healthcare workers do not get infected with COVID-19 because they take appropriate precautions and argued that schools could follow the same model. “There’s no reason schools have to be in any way any different,” he said. But Azar’s claim about health care workers not getting infected is false. According to the CDC, more than 94,000 health care workers have contracted COVID-19, and at least 500 have died. In addition, medical professionals have rejected the argument that precautionary measures taken in healthcare settings can easily be replicated in schools. Instead, schools must be incentivized to develop and adopt protective measures that work in school settings and be given the appropriate resources to fully implement them. Rather than working to provide standards for schools to keep students and staff safe, the Trump administration wants to shield schools from accountability if they act negligently.

THE ‘EPIDEMIC OF LAWSUITS’ IS IN MCCONNELL’S IMAGINATION: McConnell claims to be worried about an “epidemic of lawsuits” against businesses, but that epidemic exists only in his mind. Months into a real epidemic that has infected more than 3 million people across the U.S. and killed more than 133,000 people, only 49 lawsuits involving personal injury, wrongful death, or medical malpractice have been filed, of which only 14 are based on claimed exposure to the virus in a public place, according to the Hunton Andrews Kurth case tracker. Proponents of business immunity claim that it is needed to prevent a “flood” of litigation going back to December 2019. The facts show that there is no flood, just a relatively small number of people seeking to hold companies accountable for harm against them. Congress should not override the laws of all 50 states in the purported interest of addressing an imagined flood that in reality is merely a trickle.