October 15, 2020

New York State Department of Health Issues New Regulations for Purposes of Controlling Communicable Diseases in the Wake of COVID-19

New York State Department of Health (“DOH”) recently announced amendments to its regulations, many of which have not been updated in fifty years, that would clarify and strengthen the authority that local health departments and the DOH already have to investigate and control the spread of disease when informed about an outbreak. However, among other things, the new regulations mandate reporting requirements on clinical laboratories and hospitals, while also granting the DOH Commissioner the power to direct hospitals to take patients during a highly communicable disease outbreak.

The new regulations clarify that the DOH Commissioner has the authority to lead an investigation when the State is faced with the outbreak of a disease. When the Commissioner decides to lead an investigation, these new regulations require that the local health authorities assist with supplying personnel, equipment, or information.

Additionally, the new regulations clarify that the DOH, along with local departments of health, have the authority to issue isolation and quarantine orders. While the DOH Commissioner has the ability under these new regulations to direct local health authorities to issue such orders, the new regulations provide that this provision should not be construed as relieving local health authorities of their duty to issue orders. Further, the new regulations impose requirements for what information should be contained in isolation and quarantine orders, such as the basis for the order, the location where the person must remain in isolation or quarantine, and specific isolation and quarantine instructions depending on what type of dwelling they live in.   

While hospitals already voluntarily report “syndromic surveillance data,” the new regulations impose a mandate that hospitals report such data during outbreaks of highly contagious communicable diseases. The new regulations also impose a mandate that clinical laboratories immediately report positive test results for such diseases and report all test results, whether negative and indeterminable, for communicable diseases that are identified as requiring prompt attention (i.e., the communicable diseases listed in Section 2.1 of the State Sanitary Code). The new regulations for the most part only clarify requirements that already exist and should not result in any large additional costs to laboratories.

Further, when an attending physician discovers or suspects a case of a highly contagious disease, he or she is now required to isolate the patient, contact DOH and advise other members of that patient’s household on the precautions they should take to prevent further spread of the disease.

 The rulemaking for the new regulations state that any adverse impacts will be minimal and that the DOH will work with local health departments to inform them of the new regulations and information necessary for their compliance.

For more information about the new regulations, please see the September 23, 2020 New York State Register.

If you have any questions about this article, please contact David R. Ross, Esq., Senior Shareholder, via e-mail at dross@oalaw.com.  Law Clerk Colleen R. Pierson contributed to this article.