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Coronavirus Versus Michael Bloomberg: Former Mayor Funding Massive Contact Tracing Push

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The key to reopening the economy in the Tri-State Area is something called contact tracing on a grand scale, and now former mayor Michael Bloomberg is providing millions to get it off the ground.

With states, counties, cities, and towns hemorrhaging money to fight COVID-19 - hospitals reeling, businesses closed, no tax dollars coming in - there is intense pressure to reopen the economy.

CBS 2 political reporter Marcia Kramer talked to Dr. Kelly Henning, the epidemiologist at Bloomberg Philanthropies who heads the project.

Henning says the only way to do it safely is with an unprecedented effort to interview the people who get the virus, track down every single person they come in contact with, and get them to quarantine for 14 days.

MORE: Cuomo, De Blasio Outline 'Test And Trace' Plan For N.Y. With Former Mayor Bloomberg Heading Up Statewide Effort

Henning will oversee the $10 million Michael Bloomberg gave the state of New York to get the program off the ground.

The first step is to hire an army of people, and it will take an army according to New Jersey's Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

"We need 81 contact tracers per 100,000 population," she said on Thursday.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The big question for elected officials like Gov. Andrew Cuomo is when to start contact tracing.

"The goal here is to see the cases come down before the contact tracing begins," said Henning. "It's important to realize that right now we are in a state of staying at home so the number of contacts that individuals have right now is likely lower."


"We feel at this moment the ability to do this and get this up and running and really see how we are doing with it, this is the moment to do that," she said.

How much of a decline in people getting sick is necessary?

"There is no magic number," said Henning. "It's really about case loads coming down over the 14 day period clearly, clear declines, and then depending on the county how many contact tracers they have in place. It's really a county by county situation."

Officials are looking to hire people who are empathetic, resourceful, and have good interviewing skills.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city plans to hire thousands this summer.

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