State Bar Association Offers Assistance to Policymakers, Public Health Authorities on Coronavirus

By Susan DeSantis

The New York State Bar Association is offering its assistance to policymakers and health authorities as the state prepares to deal with its first case of COVID-19, more commonly known as the novel coronavirus. It is one of the association’s core missions to serve as a resource for New Yorkers and state policymakers on substantive issues of the day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Sunday night that a Manhattan woman who traveled to Iran has tested positive for the virus. She has respiratory symptoms and is remaining in isolation at home.

The bar association’s Health Law Section has begun an in-depth study of the public policy and legal issues arising from the threat of an epidemic in New York. Hermes Fernandez, the chair of the Health Law Section and the co-chair of Bond, Schoeneck & King’s Health Law Group, will be speaking publicly about these efforts and also will appear next week in a special edition of the Miranda Warnings podcast.

Henry M. Greenberg, president of the New York State Bar Association and the former general counsel of the New York State Department of Health, pledged that the association will do everything in its power to help establish legal protocols that protect public health.

“We are aware of the numerous legal issues that could arise in dealing with an epidemic, if one were to occur,” he said. “The public health response must balance individual rights with the need to keep New Yorkers safe.”

“The virus is presenting a host of public health issues,” Fernandez added. “Public health officials are still learning what they are facing.”

New York State’s Commissioner of Health has declared COVID-19 a communicable disease. This declaration authorizes the Department of Health to take many steps, according to Greenberg, though thus far, it is relying on reporting, tracking, education and outreach.

This makes NYSBA’s role as a resource for public policymakers even more crucial, Greenberg said.

On the federal level, the United States is refusing or limiting entry to foreigners who have been in China and Iran. The federal government has also restricted the reentry of American citizens, imposing time-limited quarantines on citizens who have found themselves in unexpected and unfortunate circumstances.

“China and Italy have resorted to coercive measures to check the disease’s spread, imposing quarantines on entire municipalities” Fernandez explained.

Fernandez, who is available for media interviews, further detailed some of the legal implications that the Health Law Section will examine.

“There is the potential for national origin discrimination unrelated to actual disease exposure,” he said. “There will likely be commercial disputes from supply chain disruptions, travel restrictions and forced closings of venues.

“The need to prevent the spread of the disease will impact the employer/employee relationship,” Fernandez continued. “There are likely to be issues regarding restricting ill or merely exposed students from attending schools.  Schools themselves may close.”

Extensive information and resources relating to the coronavirus — including guidelines for travelers to other countries – are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Department of State also has important details for travelers regarding the coronavirus.  Additional helpful information can be obtained from the New York State Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health.

About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, NYSBA has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.

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Contact: Susan DeSantis
[email protected]
518/487-5780

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