First Read Coronavirus Update: Health

January 21, 2021  
2:00PM - 3:00PM
Infection Rates, Contact Tracing, & Vaccine Distribution
Event Description

City & State is proud to present “First Read Coronavirus Update” a four-part webinar series in partnership with the Office of the Counsel to the Mayor. Each month we will co-host a one-hour webinar featuring Mayor de Blasio’s closest legal and policy advisors, which will be moderated by City & State Editorial staff. 

We welcome the opportunity to partner with each industry to expand our discussion with the Mayor’s team and form a larger roundtable discussion each week. Join us for this series and ask your questions live.

Dr. Jay Varma, Senior Advisor to the Mayor on COVID-19, Kapil Longani, Counsel to the Mayor, Bess Chiu Chief of Staff to the Counsel, Mark Ustin, New York State Regulatory & Government Relations Partner, Farrell Fritz, and Dr. Ramon Tallaj, Board Chairman & Founder, Somos Community Care, will speak about New York City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the City’s historic contact tracing, quarantine, and vaccine distribution efforts. Discussion topics will include the legal issues related to these topics and a discussion of the vaccine rollout plan.

Kapil Longani
Kapil Longani
Counsel to the Mayor of New York City
Mr. Longani serves as Chief Counsel to the Mayor of New York City. As Mayor de Blasio’s chief problem solver, Kapil advises the Mayor and City Hall on high profile and sensitive legal matters affecting the City including: police reform, economic development, affordable housing, and immigration. Most recently, he played a central role in the Administration’s legal response to the historic issues confronting New York City during the COVID-19 crisis. Appointed Counsel to the Mayor in November 2018, Kapil has a long career in public service, which he attributes to his immigrant parents. They instilled in him a strong belief in the power of government to improve people’s lives and a deep commitment to public service. Before joining the administration, Kapil served as Senior Counsel to Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. Kapil acted as the Democratic staff's lead investigator in several inquiries including the Flint water crisis, contractor fraud at the Department of Defense, the Department of State's rejection of the Keystone Pipeline application, the Trump Administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Environmental Protection Agency's Waters of the United States rulemaking process. Prior to his work in Congress, Kapil served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia where he prosecuted cases involving sexual assault, homicide, robbery, narcotics, and illegal firearms. He previously worked as a litigator in New York City at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, and served as a law clerk to Judge Roger L. Gregory of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Judge Richard Smoak of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Kapil holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and legal degrees from the University of Florida, Yale, and Oxford University.
Bess Chiu
Bess Chiu
Chief of Staff, Counsel to the Mayor of New York City
Bess Chiu serves as Chief of Staff to the Counsel to the Mayor. In this role, she works with senior policymakers in City Hall and across City government to provide oversight of and guidance to critical projects. Bess played a key role in the City’s response to the 2019 measles outbreak and has worked on vital issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the momentous task of shutting down the City, and the subsequent task of determining how to safely reopen the City. Bess has also led on some of the Administration’s equity-focused policies, including: the salary history ban and the creation of the Office of Minority and Women Business Enterprises (M/WBE). Bess serves as a member of the City’s Safe Reopening Task Force, Chair of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, and as the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the Mayor’s Office. A lifelong New Yorker, Bess is proud to co-host the City Hall Pass podcast, which provides New Yorkers with a behind the scenes look into the decision-making process of City government’s most influential leaders. She has represented the City on various panels for legal and non-legal audiences, including the New York State Bar and Queens Public Library. A committed and experienced public interest lawyer, Bess joined the Administration in 2014 and previously served as Associate Counsel to the Mayor and Managing Counsel. She has also served as an attorney with the City’s Administration for Children’s Services, where she prosecuted child abuse and neglect cases. The daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, Bess has a deep passion for exploring different cultures. She has visited over 20 countries and 39 of the 50 US States. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and Cardozo School of Law.
Jay Varma
Dr. Jay Varma
Senior Public Health Advisor, Mayor of New York City
Jay K. Varma, MD is a world-renowned expert on the prevention and control of diseases, having led epidemic responses, developed global and national policies, and led large-scale programs that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the United States. At the height of the coronavirus epidemic, Dr. Varma was based at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he led conception and development of the African continent’s first public health agency (Africa CDC). Dr. Varma authored the African continent’s strategy for COVID-19 response and policies on community social distancing measures, quarantine and monitoring, and clinical management of COVID-19, which have been credited with helping avert large-scale illnesses and deaths. Recruited by the Mayor of New York at the peak of the epidemic, Dr. Varma has served since April 2020 as the principal scientific spokesperson and architect for New York City’s COVID-19 pandemic response, including the largest diagnostic testing and contact tracing programs in the country, the phased re-opening of businesses, and the health policies and practices for the safe re-opening of the largest public school system in the country. After graduating magna cum laude with highest honors from Harvard, Dr. Varma completed medical school, internal medicine residency, and chief residency at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. From 2001-2019, he worked on infectious diseases prevention and control for US CDC with postings in Atlanta, Thailand, China, Ethiopia, and New York City. Dr. Varma has authored 140 scientific manuscripts, six essays, and one book. He has been recognized as the US Public Health Service Physician Researcher of the Year (2010) and Physician Leader of the Year (2017), and has received the two highest awards in the US Public Health Service (Distinguished Service Medal, 2011; Meritorious Service Medal, 2018).
Mark Ustin
Mark R. Ustin
New York State Regulatory & Government Relations Partner, Farrell Fritz
Mark Ustin is a regulatory lawyer and lobbyist with extensive experience assisting healthcare entities in navigating the complicated statutory, regulatory and policy landscape surrounding healthcare delivery and payment. He has represented a broad array of healthcare clients across the country, including academic medical centers, community hospitals, critical access hospitals, federally qualified health centers, physician practices, nursing homes, assisted living providers, home health agencies, behavioral health providers, developmental disability service providers, managed care organizations and pharmaceutical and other life science companies. Mark provides regulatory counsel and strategic business advice on everything from complex business transactions to the day-to-day concerns faced by participants in the healthcare sector. Mark also regularly represents clients before New York State government, particularly including the Department of Health, Office of Mental Health, Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, as well as the New York State Legislature and the Governor’s Office. Mark assists clients in promoting and responding to key legislation and regulation impacting their interests and has steered clients through state processes to secure millions of dollars in government grants and other funding streams. Mark earned his J.D. degree from St. John’s University School of Law and his B.A. degree, magna cum laude, from Fordham University. He is a member of the New York State Bar Association and admitted to practice in New York.
Ramon Tallaj
Dr. Ramon Tallaj
Board Chairman and Founder, SOMOS Community Care
Dr. Ramon Tallaj, served as the Under Secretary of Health in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York to work in the most underserved communities in need. In 2015, he founded SOMOS Community Care, now a network of over 2,500 health care providers who care for over 800,000 mostly immigrant patients throughout New York City. SOMOS is the only physician-led Performance Provider System participating in New York State's DSRIP Program for Medicaid redesign. As chairman of the board of Corinthian Medical IPA, a network of over 1,200 physicians, Tallaj has championed the pay-for-performance model in New York State as a way to improve health outcomes by enhancing preventive and chronic care management which he saved the saved the state $336M through the NYS Medicaid program. Since the start of the pandemic outbreak, Dr Tallaj and his network of doctors have been on the frontlines providing free testing in NYC’s primarily low-income communities of color and in NYC’s public and Catholic schools. SOMOS has set up more than 50 trilingual testing sites and were the first to offer antibody testing. They established a multilingual informational hotline and served over 2 million meals. Having traveled to the hardest hit Sun Belt states in the country they applied what has become a national model for care for those underserved. Based on this leadership and trusted authority, SOMOS Chairman Dr. Ramon Tallaj has been appointed to help lead the New York State COVID-19 Distribution Task Force created by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Opening Remarks By Zach Williams, Albany Reporter, City & State NY


Roundtable Discussion

Dr. Jay Varma, Senior Advisor to the Mayor on COVID-19, Kapil Longani, Counsel to the Mayor, Bess Chiu, Chief of Staff to the Counsel, Mark Ustin, New York State Regulatory & Government Relations Partner at Farrell Fritz and Dr. Ramon Tallaj, Board Chairman and Founder, SOMOS Community Care will speak about New York City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular the City’s historic contact tracing, quarantine, and vaccine distribution efforts. Discussion topics will include the legal issues related to these topics and a discussion of the vaccine rollout plan.


Session Concludes

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