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Physician Issues and COVID-19: 
Mandatory Reporting Obligations, HIPAA, and the Ethical Use of Quarantine/Isolation Measures
As the number of reported cases of novel coronavirus (“COVID-2019”) continues to increase both across the country and internationally, physicians in North Carolina have begun to ask about their duties to report infected patients, as well as other treatment issues that may arise during outbreaks of infectious disease.

On February 3, 2020, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued a temporary, 90-day order that all physicians and laboratories in the state report all suspected or confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus (COVID-2019). When infection is “reasonably suspected” to exist, physicians and laboratories must report “immediately” to the local health director of the county or district in which the patient resides. See here and here

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-142, those who report cases of infection pursuant to such state mandates receive immunity from any civil or criminal liability that they might otherwise face from disclosing that patient information. Also, under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), covered entities are permitted to disclose protected health information without individual authorization to a “public health authority” (like an authorized local health department) for, among other things, controlling disease, reporting disease, and public health surveillance (45 CFR § 164.512(b)(1)).

With respect to the physician’s role in participating in quarantine or isolation measures, the American Medical Association (“AMA”) has issued an ethics opinion discussing the balance of ethical duties both to the individual patient and also to the health of the public. Among other obligations, the ethics opinion states that physicians should educate patients about the nature of public health threats and the benefits of quarantine and isolation measures. It also states that physicians should “encourage patients to adhere voluntarily to quarantine and isolation.” Further, the ethics opinion states that physicians should “support mandatory quarantine and isolation when a patient fails to adhere voluntarily.” Going forward, the balancing of such ethical duties may present challenges to physicians, should quarantine and isolation measures be implemented, particularly when patients might be resistant to comply with quarantine or isolation orders. For more information on the AMA’s ethics opinion, see here .

If you have any questions about legal issues that might arise in connection with quarantine or isolation measures, contact Heather Skelton or Ethan Dunn .
Governor Cooper Asks SBA for Assistance
Amid COVID-19
Gov. Roy Cooper requested the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) grant a disaster declaration for business owners in North Carolina facing economic losses due to the coronavirus. The declaration would provide disaster loans to impacted businesses and nonprofits to help meet financial obligations and cover the costs of operating expenses. Follow developments here .
Updates to NC Unemployment Released
In anticipation of employee layoffs, Governor Cooper announced that North Carolina is waiving requirements typical for unemployment benefits. Under his new Executive Order, changes to the unemployment process include:

  1. Removing the one-week waiting period typically required before someone can apply for benefits.
  2. Those unemployed and seeking benefits will not be required to look for additional work during the outbreak.
  3. Employees who lose their job, or in certain cases have their hours reduced, because of COVID-19 are eligible to apply for benefits.
  4. Applicants can (and are encouraged to) apply online or by phone.
  5. Employers with employees seeking benefits during the outbreak will not have losses counted against them.

Federal help for employers and employees is expected. We will circulate an update as soon as information is released. In the meantime, if you have any questions about legal issues that might arise in connection with unemployment benefits in response to Coronavirus, contact Nicole Gardner .
 Gardner Skelton Supports Neighbors in Need Through NCBA YLD Legal Feeding Frenzy
We are in unprecedented times with COVID-19. It is now more important than ever that we help our neighbors and those less fortunate. We are confident that each of you is doing your part.
Even in the best of times, however, over 1.5 million North Carolinians struggle with hunger—of those, nearly half a million are children. As public schools and many religious and nonprofit organizations that traditionally serve the food insecure in our communities are closing for indefinite periods, and government leaders are calling for social distancing to help limit the spread of Coronavirus, the need is never more pressing than now.  
Gardner Skelton is proud to partner with the NC Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, Feeding the Carolinas, and the NC Attorney General's Office to feed our neighbors in need. Historically, the Legal Feeding Frenzy (LFF) is a competition for the legal community across North Carolina to raise the most money and food for local food banks. While the LFF is fun and can be highly competitive, this year’s efforts prove invaluable. Food insecure communities across the nation and in our own backyard will be disproportionately impacted by the systemic shutdowns taking place.
The greatest need currently is for funds to purchase healthy shelf stable items for food boxes. These boxes will help feed families whose children are missing school meals, seniors being asked to stay safely in their homes, those in need of food who are quarantined, and employees in our community being impacted by decreases in work hours. Monetary donations and communications about our fundraising efforts can all happen at a safe, social distance (online). A small donation of $25 will help supply a seven day nutritionally balanced food box to a family.  To donate through Team Gardner Skelton, click HERE . Online donations will be accepted through March 31, 2020. Thank you for your support!
Click HERE to Donate
If you would like to read more about the current need, we encourage you to visit Feeding the Carolinas' website for their special message on COVID-19 Hunger Relief .
Gardner Skelton PLLC
505 East Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28203
704.335.0350 phone / 704.390.7027 fax
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