Kapil Longani ’97: shaping NYC’s COVID-19 response

Since 2018, Kapil Longani ’97 has served as chief counsel to New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio. Since the start of the pandemic, Longani has helped shape the city’s plans for reopening schools, creating outdoor dining protocols, and thinking through legal issues around COVID testing and vaccine distribution.

“Every significant or sensitive legal issue that comes before the mayor stops at my desk first,” Longani says. “I like to consider myself his solutions person, his solutions czar.”

In the spring of 2020, New York City became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Longani’s office of 15 staff members has drafted each of the more than 90 executive orders governing the city’s response to COVID-19. His team has worked 24/7 since the pandemic hit, and has navigated sensitive legal issues nobody could ever have imagined, Longani says.

“In law school, there isn’t a course on how to handle emergency lawyering,” he says. “There’s no ‘Pandemic Response 101.’ But what was immediately clear was that the primary goal of all of our work is to protect public health. That drove every decision we made.”

For example, when a cruise ship arrived in NYC at the beginning of the pandemic, Longani’s office needed to decide how to legally test the passengers before allowing them to enter the city, balancing protecting privacy rights with protecting public health.

“The constitution doesn’t die during a crisis. We have to respect those rights,” he says, while protecting the lives of New Yorkers.

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