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NYC "contact tracing" program starts tracking down people with coronavirus

How to become a "contact tracer"
How to become a "contact tracer" 05:06

New York — New York City contact tracers hired to contain the spread of the coronavirus reached out to all of the roughly 600 people who tested positive for the virus citywide on Monday, the first day of the program, and succeeded in reaching more than half of them, officials said Tuesday.

"On Day 1 of the program, seeking to reach several hundred people and have what could be an hour conversation with each of them was a tall order," Dr. Ted Long, the head of the city's contact tracing program, said at a briefing. Long considered the hit ratio a success, saying the fact that the contact tracers actually got through to more than half of the new cases "shows that the system we're setting up is working."

The city has hired 1,700 people for its contact tracing effort and needs to reach 2,500 total hires to meet Governor Andrew Cuomo's target for entering the first phase of the state's four-step reopening process. The contact tracers are placing people infected with the virus in hotel rooms if they need to isolate themselves away from their families as well as reaching out to the close contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19.

In the absence of a federal plan, other city and state public health departments are seeking to fill hundreds of thousands of similar positions that pay up to $65,000 a year. is expected to jump as local governments ease stay-at-home orders and restrictions, allowing non-essential businesses to start reopening. 

It's important to supplement efforts to track down individuals who test positive for coronavirus with wraparound services to help them safely quarantine and follow protocol. 

"There's a complexity to contact tracing that I am not hearing enough about," said Tom Sheriden, a social worker behind a push to create a national service program to hire out-of-work Americans as contact tracers. "In order for contact tracing to be successful we need to have a system of care for people before it begins so their jobs, livelihoods and housing are protected."

COVID-19 hospitalizations are down in New York, with an average of 154 admissions a day, compared to more than 3,000 daily at the peak of the outbreak. More than 24,000 deaths statewide have been reported in the outbreak, but the daily death toll has been under 60 for several days, with 58 new deaths recorded Monday.

Staying one step ahead of COVID-19 06:00

Asked if the past week's protests over the death of George Floyd might spark a new wave of infections, Long encouraged anyone who was at a protest to get tested for the coronavirus at one of the more than 150 free testing sites around the city. Floyd, who was black, died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.

"It starts with the testing piece, which is why we're extending the invitation we are to anybody that's been out there at the protests, come in for a free test, it's close to where you live," Long said. "We'd love to have you."

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