COVID-19 and Public Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act: Getting Americans Safely Back to Restaurants, Theaters, Gyms, and 'Normal'
65(2) Saint Louis University Law Journal (Forthcoming 2021)
49 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 15, 2020
COVID-19 permanently changed the way places of public accommodation like restaurants, theaters, medical facilities, arenas, gyms, and many other proprietors of mainstream American activities must operate in order to accommodate people with newly-defined, COVID-19-related disabilities under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The required modifications will affect all patrons and employees of these establishments. Under the ADA, places of public accommodation are barred from discriminating against people with disabilities in the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, and facilities. Infectious diseases like tuberculosis and HIV have been categorized as disabilities under the ADA, and COVID-19 is defining new categories of individuals with disabilities (including individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 complications) as revealed in this paper. Places of public accommodation will be required to establish non-discriminatory methods to identify “direct threats,” to modify policies and procedures for COVID-19-related disability groups identified here, and remove structural barriers that discriminate against those same groups. Controversial measures like fever checkpoints, mandatory face masking, and required social distancing are discussed in depth and analyzed in light of the ADA’s requirements.
Keywords: COVID-19, ADA, Disability, Public Accommodation, Americans with Disabilities Act
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