The year 2020 brought unparalleled challenges for many in the legal profession, but especially for the attorneys who supported the commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorneys from across the agencies under the Governor’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) engaged in efforts to impact directly and positively the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and to ensure the continuity of government operations. In particular, counsel assigned to the Department of Health (DOH), the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and the OGC Main Office employed their individual skills to assist the commonwealth in bending the curve of exponentially rising COVID cases. Their efforts prevented our health care systems from being overwhelmed and saved lives in the process. These attorneys were not in prominent public facing roles, but instead provided critical behind-the-scenes counsel to the governor and his executive team, the Secretary of Health, the PEMA director, and their respective client agencies.
Even before the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the commonwealth on March 6, 2020, and before the governor declared a disaster emergency, DOH attorneys had begun their work, including: reviewing laws and drafting orders relating to containment and mitigation, updating isolation and quarantine letters, drafting standing orders for testing and vaccines, reviewing guidance and FAQs, and executing emergency contracts for purchasing equipment, supplies, and systems. Illustrative of the complexity of the work performed are the IT contracts that DOH counsel negotiated for the use of mapping tools and the contact notification application that now has nearly 800,000 users.