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COVID-19: Building 'Tracing Army' Of Thousands Will Be New Phase Of Pandemic Response

New York will be building a "tracing army" following positive COVID-19 cases. Photo Credit:
New York will be building a "tracing army" following positive COVID-19 cases. Photo Credit:
The number of total hospitalizations for COVID-19 continues to drop. Photo Credit:
There have been 474 more COVID-19 deaths reported in New York. Photo Credit:
New York will be building a "tracing army" following positive COVID-19 cases. Photo Credit:

An “army” is coming to the tristate area to help combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Billionaire businessman and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has “volunteered to help develop” a program that will build a “tracing army” in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that will be tasked with tracing interactions by patients who test positive for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

During his daily COVID-19 news briefing in Albany on Wednesday, April 22, Cuomo said that the three states will be teaming up to develop a group that will trace back the contacts of those infected with the virus, and isolating those who have been exposed.

“We’re doing this on a tristate basis," Cuomo said. "That’s how our society works. The virus doesn’t just stop at geographical lines, it just spreads, and we’re one metropolitan area.

"There are people that live in Westchester, or Nassau, or Suffolk, who work in New York City and vice versa. The geographical boundaries are blurred.

“If you’re going to do tracing, you can’t just do it in your county. You’re going to come across people who are cross-jurisdictional. We have to work together, which is easier said than done. The tracers will work together, but first, we have to build our core.”

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

“The tracing is a very, very big deal,"  Cuomo said. "Once you trace and you find more positives, you have to isolate the positives. This entire operation has never been done before, so it’s very intimidating.

“We’ve never heard the words ‘testing-tracing-isolation’ before. We’ve never done anything anywhere near this scale. It’s an intimidating exercise.

“So what do you do? You have to put together a tracing army. We’re going to organize them, train them, and do it. It’s what we have to do.” 

Tracing efforts will center on downstate New York, northern New Jersey and Fairfield County, where the virus has spread most rapidly, though Cuomo noted that there will be significant testing and tracing in upstate New York as well.

As part of this effort, The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University will build an online curriculum and training program for contact tracers.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will also work with New York State to establish an expert panel to review the work of the program, and create a best in class model that other states can use for contact tracing.

“We don’t have months to plan," Cuomo said. "You have weeks to get this up and running,.

“It’s a super-ambitious undertaking and Mayor Bloomberg will help coordinate the entire effort, working with the state, counties, Connecticut, and New Jersey.”

Currently, in downstate New York, there are 200 trained tracers in the metro New York City area, 60 in Nassau, 140 in Suffolk, 50 in Westchester, 40 in Rockland, and 225 upstate. SUNY and CUNY are also working with the state to provide 35,000 medical students who can also serve as tracers.

“All things are going to be coordinated," Cuomo said. "There is no tracing that can work within any one jurisdiction. We need data, and this is where it comes from.

“Testing and tracing will give you more data and information about the rate of viral infection.”

There is currently no timeline for when tracing efforts will ramp up statewide, Cuomo said, noting that it will be an incremental process.

“We have about 500 tracers now, so you build on that. You hire more staff … more testing … but it has to be an incremental process,” he said. “We’re going to hire more tracers, who will be concentrated downstate. The process will be proportionate to where the most cases are and the hotspots.

There were 474 new COVID-19 deaths reported in New York overnight, bringing the total to 15,302 since the outbreak began 53 days ago. There have been 251,690 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide.

“This is not going to be over anytime soon. I know this is unsustainable," Cuomo said. "I also know that more people will die if we are not smart. I have to do that count every day of the number of people who passed away. 

"We’re not going to have people lose their lives because we acted imprudently. We’re not going to do that. The obituary of this period won’t be that we felt political pressure, got nervous, and acted imprudently.”

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