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NYC Criminal Defense Attorney

COVID-19 (coronavirus) Legal Issues


COVID-19 (coronavirus) Legal Issues - New York

By Lance Fletcher, Esq.

These are unprecedented times. As we naturally focus on this medical emergency, also consider how your rights may be affected. Hopefully, you never end up in an urgent medical, financial, or other personal emergency, but if so, it's good to know the rules. I’ve written this post in an attempt to generally answer some of the most frequent legal questions that have come up in the wake of COVID-19. These questions deal with several new orders, laws, and policies including Gov. Andrew Custom’s executive orders, the Coronavirus Response Act, and common questions about your rights as a patient undergoing a medical emergency.

How has COVID-19 Affected Criminal Law in NYC?

  • There is a possibility that you could be fined for failing to obey the executive order to stay 6 feet away from other people but there are numerous exceptions and reasonableness will be the key to staying out of trouble. For example, you're probably not going to get into trouble if you are closer than 6 feet accidentally or when entering mass-transit. However, if you're hosting a crowded party you might get into trouble. There haven't been any good test cases yet so it is not clear how enforceable social distancing fines are going to be.
  • Many criminal court appearances have been postponed for at least 90 days for defendants who are not in jail
  • Video conferencing is being used wherever possible for arraignments and urgent matters
  • Many criminal courthouses are currently closed for non-urgent matters but emergency applications can be made to the court
  • Some incarcerated people are being let out of jail to slow the spread of the virus
  • Filing deadlines and other deadlines have been extended
  • Arraignments, bail applications, temporary orders of protection, resentencing, and SORA (sex-offender registration) litigation are considered urgent and are still going on

What Executive Orders has Andrew Cuomo (Governor of New York) issued regarding COVID-19?

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued numerous orders on: March 30, 2020 (202.13) March 28, 2020 (202.12) March 27, 2020 (202.11) March 23, 2020 (202.10) March 21, 2020 (202.9) March 20, 2020 (202.8) March 19, 2020 (202.7) March 18, 2020 (202.6) March 18, 2020 (202.5) March 16, 2020 (202.4) March 16, 2020 (202.3) March 14, 2020 (202.2) March 12, 2020 (202.1)

By executive order, Governor Cuomo is

  • Relaxing rules applied to hospitals, doctors, and similar providers and facilities to hopefully help increase the total supply of these services
  • Relaxing rules and regulations in education and child care (including that a child care provider undergoes a criminal background check)
  • Relaxing rules and requirements that govern elections and delaying some of them. Voters will be allowed to cast absentee ballots by mail for any reason.
  • Safeguards, restrictions, and internal policing of governmental officials has been relaxed to help reduce paperwork and bureaucratic inefficiency. This includes suspensions of an anti-bribery statute as applied to certain governmental employees who are facilitating donations to assist New York in the response to the emergency. (If a governmental agent pays some extra under-the-table money to a contractor to get a contract to supply New York with masks, this will probably be ignored).
  • Allowing courts to let defendants participate in hearings and trials remotely
  • Relaxing building code and other regulatory pressures on health care facilities
  • Some regulations on patient care have been relaxed including that the hospital doesn’t currently have to explain to a patient or patient’s family member why they have been removed from their bed
  • Relaxing the training and recruiting of medical staff to make it easier to hire and credential someone in a hospital or health care facility
  • Relaxing regulations and criteria of the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expand eligibility, make the process easier, and increase payments to providers.
  • Increasing telemedicine by relaxing state rules and regulations
  • The 1 week waiting period for qualifying for unemployment insurance has been waived for applicants affected by the quarantine
  • Closing Bars and restaurants except for delivery or take-out
  • Statute of limitations has been tolled (Extends your deadline for filing a lawsuit)
  • Criminal procedure time lines have been delayed and many court appearances have been automatically adjourned for 90 days or more

What is the Big Federal Legislation (2 Trillion of Aid) that recently passed?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This $2 trillion package designed to stabilize the economy is the most expensive relief package in history. It provides loans and grants and some of the loans to businesses can be forgiven if used to pay payroll, rent, leases, and certain other expenses. It provides direct payments and benefits to:

  • Individuals - $1,200 to individuals earning up to 75k plus $500 per child, Extra 13 weeks of jobless benefits and a 4 month enhancement
  • Benefits to the self-employed and gig workers but eligibility will depend on how each state applies the new law
    • Small businesses can now apply for loans through the Small Business Administration
  • Businesses (loans and grants)
  • States

What are my rights as a patient undergoing a medical emergency in New York?

You generally have the right to participate in decisions about your health care and to understand what you are being told. Recent executive orders have changed some of the standards of care. For example, you may be unable to be around other people if you are placed in isolation. This means that your loved-ones may not be able to visit or even enter the hospital if you become sick. Additionally, your doctor, nurse, or other provider may not communicate as much with you as some of the ordinary discourse can be cut short to reduce the strain on hospitals.

This is also a good time to locate your insurance card and review your current health insurance policy details. In your policy, you may want to review your out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles, and find out who your participating providers are so you are prepared. You may also want to find out if any ambulance services are not covered. Given how busy hospitals are, you may want to write down anything unique about your medical history and your emergency contact so that you can easily give it to a nurse or doctor in the event that you become too sick to communicate effectively.

If you have special needs, the hospital must reasonably accommodate your special needs. By all indications, most people who catch COVID-19 will recover without any major medical issues. However, a portion will require hospitalization. During this hospitalization, the patient may or may not be alert. For peace of mind, you may want to make some decisions about your care in advance so that in the unlikely event that you become so sick that you cannot make health care decisions, you are treated in the way that you wanted. You should consider these two issues:

  • Who do I want to make medical decisions for me (it should be a specific person, not “my family” and not your doctor). This is handled by a health care proxy.
  • Is a living will right for me? Most people will not become severely ill but this is a reasonable consideration.

I wrote a blog on health care proxies and living wills in new York which you can read about here if you want to prepare for the possibility that you may become gravely ill.

Additionally, if you lost your job recently due to the corononavirus, Bankrate has some sound financial advice for getting back on your feet in the short and longterm which you can read about here: Bankrate article