The president of a New York state union publicly said that convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein has the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), but one of the inmate’s spokesmen is criticizing the decision to publicly reveal this.
Weinstein tested positive for the coronavirus at the Wende Correctional Facility, Michael Powers told NBC News in a Monday report. Powers is the president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. Weinstein is in isolation, and some staff who were in contact with him were also quarantined, he said.
The inmate’s spokesman criticized Powers.
“The president of Corrections Officers is not authorized to talk on behalf of DOCCS [the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision],” Juda Engelmayer told Law&Crime in an email. He initially said they still haven’t heard about a diagnosis, and that they have authority to obtain that information. [Note: See update below, regarding Weinstein’s condition.] If Weinstein has the virus, “Powers has violated a few HIPAA regulations from what I see,” Engelmayer asserted.
Professor George J. Annas, a health law expert at Boston University, told Law&Crime that HIPAA wouldn’t directly cover Powers, a union president. Instead, it’s for “covered entities”: people who legitimately have access to medical records. They can share information in certain circumstances (eg. communicating with insurance companies), but they can’t discuss this with the press.
Annas said that Powers’ revelation could be a HIPAA violation, but even if it is, it’s not a big deal. This is all the matter of perspective.
“It’s not the main problem,” he said. The main problem was protecting Weinstein, the other prisoners, and the correctional officers, who have a right to know if Weinstein has a communicable disease, he said.
Annas also suggested that Weinstein simply had less medical privacy than most people: Though the inmate did not disclose any coronavirus diagnosis, he did use his other health issues as an argument as to why he shouldn’t be in prison.
Indeed, the defense brought up the former mogul’s health as a mitigating factor during sentencing.
Powers’s statement is the first public declaration that Weinstein caught the coronavirus. There were reports on Sunday, but those were based on background sources. The Niagara Gazette broke the story first. At the time, Engelmayer, and Weinstein civil attorney Imran A. Ansari told Law&Crime that they didn’t know if their client tested positive for the virus.
Weinstein, a 68-year-old former Hollywood mogul, was recently sentenced to 23 years in prison in a 2006 sexual assault against former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, and a 2013 third-degree rape against former actress Jessica Mann. His defense asserted these were consensual encounters; they said they’re going to file an appeal.
In the meantime, Weinstein is in prison, and would certainly qualify as a high-risk coronavirus patient. His representatives have reported that he was dealing with a number of a health problems.
“After the sentencing yesterday, Harvey Weinstein was experiencing a [similar issue] with his blood pressure where it was elevated to dangerously high levels, coupled with the heart procedure that he had previously, and the concussion he’s being treated for, plus the spinal stenosis,” said lawyer Imran Ansari in a statement to the Law&Crime Network on March 12. “Its a perfect storm health-wise for Harvey, so the doctor — in an abundance of caution and to ensure that Harvey is being treated properly, medically speaking — was transported to Bellevue so he could receive urgent medical care. He remains under the care of doctors within the Bellevue Hospital prison ward where his conditions are being monitored. The Department of Corrections [is] doing a great job monitoring Harvey’s condition and ensuring is receiving the appropriate medical care.”
Updated – March 23, 2020, 1:54 p.m.: Weinstein’s team sent Law&Crime a statement, announcing that they now knew his condition, but they declined to reveal it.
“At this time, we will neither confirm nor deny whether Mr. Weinstein has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus,” said a statement attributed to Engelmayer, prison consultant Craig Rothfeld, and defense lawyer Arthur Aidala. “While his team is now fully aware of his current medical condition, since Mr. Weinstein executed the proper Dept. of Corrections Healthcare Information Release Form, we are going to continue protecting his privacy and maintain his privacy. As such, we will not discuss this matter any further.”
They said that as of Monday afternoon, they spoke with the NYSDOCCS about their client’s condition.
“We are incredibly appreciative of the response and time given to the Legal Defense Team from both the NYSDOCCS Central Office and Wende Correctional Facility where we have held several conversations with senior level DOCCS officials,” they said. “They have been extremely responsive and caring about the situation, and we want to point out that at no time did the NYSDOCCS make any statement or issue a comment regarding Mr. Weinstein’s current health condition, for which we are incredibly grateful. Any statements that have been made were not made or authorized by the Department of Corrections and could be considered a violation of HIPAA regulations.”
Update – 2:45 p.m.: Added analysis from Annas.
Sarah Puckett and Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
[Image via Harvey Weinstein via Scott Heins/Getty Images]