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As New York City Begins To Reopen Next Week, All Eyes Will Be On Efficiency Of Hired Contact Tracers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A key to New York City's reopening Monday will be its ability to test and trace people recently diagnosed with the coronavirus.

That will help stop the spread and the city said it's already seeing success, but that's not without controversy, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported Wednesday.

There is a caller ID that has been showing up on the phones of city residents who tested positive for the virus this week.

The city so far has hired 1,700 contact tracers, like a Brooklyn doctor who served in Nigeria during the ebola outbreak. Dr. Ted Long is the executive director of the Test and Trace Corps.

"We've actually reached half of them, which we're very excited about, meaning our system is working," Long said. "We're then going to be phasing in going and knocking on your door if you don't pick up your phone."


He said almost half of the tracers are from communities hardest hit by COVID-19 who have completed training, including a five-hour online course from Johns Hopkins.

Their job is to track down cases within 36 hours of being diagnosed and identify anyone they've had close contact with.

New York City has contracted outside recruiting firm the Bachrach Group to vet tens of thousands of applicants in a matter of weeks.

MOREWhat Does Being A Contact Tracer Entail? CBS2 Gets Information From Those In The Know

But some applicants said there's been confusion. One man who asked to remain anonymous said he was hired as a remote tracer. The recruiter asked for a start date, but then a few days later, "She informed me that there was an influx. I was annoyed. As I said, I put so much time, energy and effort into this position," the man said.

He had to reapply for a field job.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211

Another hire said she already got paid, and picked up a work computer, but she and others have not been trained on how to use the software.

"It definitely brings a lot of anxiety," the woman said.

Rozner did try to bring these concerns to the Bachrach Group, but the agency referred our request to NYC Health + Hospitals.

CBS2 urban affairs expert Mark Peters believes the issues stem from what he calls a politically motivated decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio to make NYC Health + Hospitals responsible for tracing, instead of the Department of Health.

"The entity that's running contact tracing now has never done this before and so is making lots of first-time mistakes," Peters said.

Dr. Bruce Y. Lee of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health concurs.

"It's very concerning that the Department of Health is not more involved, because they do have the experience," Lee said.

On Wednesday, the mayor said the city is prepared, and Dr. Long said the program is based on things his agency has done for a long time.

Next week will be the test, to see if he's right.

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