New York to begin contact tracing study to control infection rate

Photo by Mike Groll, Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo discusses plans to begin a contact tracing study to better understand how the COVID-19 virus spread.

With help from the federal government, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York will be ramping up testing to 40,000 tests a day, in the first step towards the state’s strategy to test, trace, and isolate infected New Yorkers.

It has been 53 days since the first New York state stay-at-home PAUSE order. While numbers are still high, hospitalizations, intubations and deaths continuously decrease, showing New York to be on the downwards slope of the worst of the virus.

“If you look at the reality of the situation, we are actually in a much better place.” said Cuomo. “We are not home yet, but we are in a better place.”

The single-day death toll dropped to 474 COVID-19 related deaths yesterday, from 481 on Monday, showing a declining number. 

On Tuesday, Cuomo visited the White House to ask President Trump for greater testing and monetary aid for the states. 

New York state has spent approximately $2.8 billion on COVID-19 relief so far, which does include some federal support. 

State laboratories running tests have been limited in the testing kits and supplies they can get from private manufacturers who are facing high demand for the specific chemical testing agents needed for each type of machine. 

Cuomo called his meeting at the White House “productive.”

“Who really cares how I feel, or how he [Trump] feels, just get the job done,” Cuomo said. 

Trump agreed to waive New York’s required payments for using FEMA resources. States typically have to pay 25 percent of FEMA costs, and with New York having the most COVID-19 patients nationwide, it would have paid the highest costs among the states, on top of a deficit in the billions of dollars caused by the outbreak. 

Testing is seen as the most critical factor in looking at reopening the economy and tracking the spread of the virus.

New York will now be doubling its original 20,000 tests a day to 40,000 tests, reaching the maximum capacity for all the state labs both private and public.

This widespread and increased testing is the first step in the state’s “test-trace-isolate” initiative to continuously drop infection rates and allow for a possible reopening of the economy. 

Cuomo announced Wednesday the implementation of a “tracing army” that will organize and train individuals to help trace as many positive COVID-19 patients as possible.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to head this program, working with John Hopkins University to develop the technology of the tracing program and creating an online curriculum to train and recruit trackers. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies has committed $10.5 million, along with organizational support and technical assistance, to help build and execute this new program.

This tracing will be concentrated downstate and in the area tri-state by correspondence with Mayor Bill De Blasio, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont. 

Communities on Long Island, New York City, and Westchester and Rockland counties have seen the highest positive cases and the hardest hitting death tolls. 

“Blur the governmental jurisdictions because they don’t really make sense, put everybody together, work together,” Cuomo said. 

Tracing will take place throughout the state as the program is further implemented, but focus will be on where the outbreaks and clusters form throughout New York. 

Cuomo also announced that the state will be working with SUNY and CUNY to collect 35,000 students in medical fields to help serve as tracers in this program.

“Every decision we make is going to affect how we come out of this and how fast we come out of this,” Cuomo said.