New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out the state’s plan for tracing who COVID-19-positive patients have been in contact with so that those people can be encouraged to quarantine and prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.
Testing, tracing, and isolating are key to monitoring and controlling the infection rate, officials said, especially as the economy plans to reopen. Bloomberg, who owns a home in Southampton, is leading the program’s effort, the first-ever of its magnitude.
“When social distancing is relaxing, contact tracing is our best hope for isolating the virus when it appears, and to keep it isolated,” Bloomberg said, speaking by video April 30.
“The faster you trace the better,” Cuomo said during his daily press conference last Thursday, adding it will require “an army.”
On Wednesday, the day prior to the press conference, 4681 people tested positive for COVID-19.
“How do you now communicate with 4681 people, trace back all the people they’ve been in contact with over 14 days — close contact — and contact those people?” the governor asked. “That is an overwhelming scale to an operation that has never existed before.”
The estimate is that 30 contact tracers will be needed for every 100,000 people, Cuomo announced. That means 6400 – 17,000 people will need to be trained as tracers for projected cases.
Cuomo said New York will work with its tri-state neighbors to launch the program.
“It’s not rocket science to do it on an individual basis,” he said. “The problem is the scale we have to do this.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies, which encompasses all of the charitable giving from Bloomberg, is helping create and implement the system. With Johns Hopkins University, they will handle recruitment and training in consultation with the New York State Department of Health. The groups will train existing employees of health departments from throughout the state and pull in other government employees who may be at home, not working but getting paid, and marshal them as tracers. They are working with the City University of New York and State University of New York systems to identify potential job applicants as well.
Johns Hopkins is developing a training curriculum and final exam that can be taken remotely, Bloomberg said.
His team is working with other nonprofits, like Vital Strategies and Resolve to Save Lives, and three smartphone apps are being developed. One will help tracers find information quickly, a second will help the public provide information to health departments, and the third will be for those in quarantine to report symptoms.
Vital Strategies is also helping to develop “a comprehensive playbook” of protocols that will be released publicly, so that other states and countries can use them.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Bloomberg said. “And we are going to get through this together, again.”
Cuomo is still expected to announce a decision about reopening schools by tomorrow.
Also discussed during the press conference, MTA will be disinfected the Long Island Rail Road trains every day, but without disruption to service because ridership is down. The subway system in New York City will be shut down between 1 and 5 AM daily for disinfection.