What We’re Reading: Rural Hotspots Lack ICU Beds; Legal Immunity for NY Hospitals Rescinded; NJ Students Must Wear Masks

A Health Affairs study found 49% of all rural low-income communities have no intensive care unit beds; New York loosened its restrictions granting hospitals and care facilities some legal immunity during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic; all students in New Jersey will be required to wear masks in school.

Lack of ICU Beds in Rural, Low-Income Hospitals

A new study found more than half of all rural low-income communities in the United States have no intensive care unit (ICU) beds, Politico reports. The shortages are forcing hospitals to rely on transfers to care facilities in wealthier areas for their sickest coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. Specifically, authors found 49% of all low-income areas did not have any ICU beds compared with 3% of the nation’s wealthiest communities. Data showed that, on average, even the poorest urban areas had more ICU beds per capita than the wealthiest rural areas. Rural communities in the Southeast and West have historically struggled with access to care, and the pandemic is amplifying the unique challenges these regions face.

New York Lifts Some Legal Protections for Hospitals

Hospitals and nursing homes in New York state can now be held liable in lawsuits and criminal prosecutions for care provided to individuals not being treated for COVID-19, the AP reports. In an effort to fend off lawsuits during the peak of the pandemic in April, the state instituted broad legal shields protecting nursing homes, hospitals, and other care facilities. The immunity applied retroactively to the start of the pandemic and did not include protections from damages or harm caused by gross negligence, or intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other misconduct. The provision also did not allow legal action to be pursued for staffing or equipment shortages.

All New Jersey Students Must Wear Masks in Schools

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced all students will be required to wear masks in school buildings during in-person instruction in the fall, Politico reports. Regardless of their social distancing, all students will be required to wear masks while inside a school building unless the practice would inhibit the individual’s health. Students with disabilities will be exempt from the mandate. Previous guidance required masks for teachers, staff and school visitors, but only strongly encouraged the measure for students when social distancing could not be maintained. Individuals will also be given face covering breaks throughout the day in areas where social distancing can be maintained, either outdoors or in classrooms with open windows.