Cuomo, Bloomberg partner up on coronavirus contact tracing program

REUTERS/Paresh Dave

Working with two other states and the former mayor of New York City, the Empire State is launching a new pilot program aimed at tracing the contacts of people who contract coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

“We know increasing our testing capacity is the key to re-opening New York, and the second step after testing is tracing to find out who tested positive, who they contacted and then isolate those people so you don’t increase the rate of infection,” Cuomo said during his daily novel coronavirus briefing in Albany, where he was joined remotely by Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Tracing is not hard on an individual basis — the problem is the massive scale and with an operation that has never existed before.”

Bloomberg said that the City University of New York and the State University of New York would help find potential applicants for the contract tracer jobs and that Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health would help recruit, interview and train contract tracers with an online curriculum.

“One of the most important steps to take to re-open the economy as safely as possible is to create a system of contact tracing,” Bloomberg said. “When social distancing is relaxed, contact tracing is our best hope for isolating the virus when it appears — and keeping it isolated.”

There will be at least 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people, according to the governor’s office.  The program is expected to have 6,400 to 17,000 tracers statewide depending on the projected number of cases.

Contact tracing will help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in four steps, according to the governor’s office. First, labs will report positive cases of the virus to contact tracers every day. The contact tracer will then interview the positive patient to identify people they may have been in contact with over the past 14 days.

The contact tracer will then notify and interview each contact to alert them to their risk of infection and instruct those contacts to quarantine or isolate for 14 days to be sure they don’t spread the novel coronavirus to others. Tracers will then monitor contacts by text throughout the duration of their quarantine or isolation to see if the contacts are showing any symptoms.

Cuomo said the program will operate through the next flu season and be implemented in coordination with New Jersey and Connecticut.

The current New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, said he’s supportive of the tracing program, and the city’s eager to participate.

“Contact tracing, the test and trace approach, is going to change everything,” de Blasio said. “New York City is hiring 1,000 contact tracers with healthcare background to super charge this effort. I think we are going to be able to show this country a model that’s going to be extraordinarily effective in beating back this disease.”

This story first appeared on amny.com.

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