Person walking down an empty Centre Street during the coronavirus pandemic in New York on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Photo: Ryland West/ALM Person walking down an empty Centre Street during the coronavirus pandemic in New York on Tuesday, March 17. Photo: Ryland West/ALM

The New York City Law Department has confirmed that two attorneys had tested positive for COVID-19, as the office implemented new measures to protect its workforce and help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Law Department said in a statement late Tuesday that one of the positive tests appeared to be connected to the state’s largest known cluster of cases in New Rochelle, Westchester County. The other case, a spokesman said, also appeared to be linked to community spread of the virus, though it was not clear exactly how the lawyer may have contracted the virus.

Neither attorney had worked out of the Law Department offices in at least a week in a half, the spokesman said.

“As soon as they felt the need to get tested, they left and were home for a while until they got the results of the tests,” said Nick Paolucci, director of public affairs, said Wednesday.

The new cases were first reported Tuesday night by the New York Post.

Most of the Law Department’s 1,000 lawyers and 890 support staff were working remotely, and the Law Department had undertaken “intensive cleaning” of possibly affected areas, including floors, offices and common areas, the spokesman said.

“We are taking this situation seriously and are following all recommended protocols to protect the Law Department community,” Paolucci said.

Officials from the Law Department, which defends the city and its agencies in civil litigation, were holding bi-weekly conference calls with general counsels across city government to review legal issues and coordinate legal functions.

Corporation Counsel James “Jim” Johnson and his staff were reviewing and helping to draft executive orders and other rules from the mayor’s office to deal with the growing crisis, Paolucci said.

The department had also set up an email box for agencies as an added channel to receive issues and was tracking all of the matters coming both from City Hall and the city agencies.

Paolucci said the Law Department began implementing its work-from-home plan for its employees over the weekend in an effort to increase social distancing, which public health officials have identified as the most efficient tool to fight the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

The Law Department, about a month ago, launched a wellness initiative to disseminate communications and tips for staying healthy, among other priorities.  The agency had also temporarily suspended operations at its in-house cafeteria to ensure that proper procedures were being followed for those still working in the building.

“Because we know community spread is now an important factor in the response, we are working to maximize our use of the administration’s work from home policies to significantly increase social distancing,” Paolucci said.

“This has tremendously increased the number of people working from home. Most importantly, this has increased social distancing at our department,” he said.

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