The New York State Bar Association is offering its assistance to policymakers and health authorities as the state prepares to deal with its first cases 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 has confirmed 421 cases in New York State. The New York State Legislature has approved $40 million in emergency funding to fight the coronavirus, while also permitting the Governor to issue by executive order any directive necessary to respond to a list of state disaster emergencies, including COVID-19.
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 speak 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.” This makes NYSBA’s role as a resource for public policymakers even more crucial, Greenberg said.
“The virus is presenting a host of public health issues,” Fernandez added. “Public health officials are still learning what they are facing.”
Fernandez said that to his knowledge, so far the virus hasn’t affected any court calendars, although some international cases may have been affected. “Right now, the effect we are seeing for New York law firms are quite a few client questions, which vary among clients. Law firms are also digging into the many issues presented, in order to advise their clients.”
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. Thus far, the Department is primarily relying on reporting, tracking, education and outreach. Isolation, though, is beginning to be used in New York for exposed individuals. The Governor, in discussing his newly enhanced emergency powers, has specifically referenced quarantine powers and the possibility of directing laboratories to focus on testing.
On the federal level, the United States is refusing or limiting entry to foreigners who have been in China and Iran. Travel precautions have been announced for Italy. 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.
Fernandez said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has authorized more entities to process testing. This is a significant development for reporting and tracking purposes. More testing is also likely to identify more cases. That could increase the number of individuals isolated or quarantined.
“China and Italy have resorted to coercive measures to check the disease’s spread, imposing quarantines on entire municipalities” Fernandez explained. “There is the potential for national origin discrimination unrelated to actual disease exposure. 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.”
He concluded, “The impact on law firms is just starting to occur. Tomorrow might be completely different than today.”
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.