7 On Your Side Investigates: Up to 4,000 coronavirus cases prevented by NYC contact tracers

Saturday, July 11, 2020
Up to 4,000 COVID cases prevented by NYC contact tracers: officials
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio along with local health experts have repeatedly called contact tracing a key element in preventing another spike of coronavirus in the city.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio along with local health experts have repeatedly called contact tracing a key element in preventing another spike of coronavirus in the city.

The program, now in its second month, is gaining traction, according to Dr. Ted Long, vice president of Ambulatory Care at NYC Health + Hospitals.

Dr. Long is leading the city's contact tracing efforts.

Related: 7 On Your Side Investigates contact tracing and how it works

Initially, when the program launch in June, contact tracers were only getting the information they needed from a little over a third of the people they contacted, according to data from NYC Health + Hospitals.

Now, updated numbers through July 4 indicate contact tracers have completed interviews with about 55% of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and about 48% of people considered close contacts of those individuals who tested positive and may have been exposed.

"Anybody in a job on day one is going to feel more comfortable on week three than they did on day one," Dr. Long said. "And I think that our data shows that, and I think that that's OK."

Long said his team is working toward a 75% interview completion rate.

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Part of the challenge for tracers has been convincing New Yorkers to share personal information, such as the people they have seen and how to contact them.

"Communication is key," said Kimberly Jocelyn, one of the city's more than 3,000 contact tracers. "The use of language, tone, and creating that very supportive and welcoming environment."

Jocelyn manages a team of about 17 people and says a typical day involves about 50 phone calls, all of which are confidential.

The calls are about more than obtaining information about close contacts. Tracers also help connect individuals to resources such as healthcare, testing, food delivery, and alternative hotels stays for individuals who need to quarantine or isolate.

"We care," she said. "For me, I care. I want to listen. I want to better understand how I can best assist them."

Dr. Long said that even as tracers like Jocelyn work to increase communication with New Yorkers, the program has had early success.

Related: Did Google or Apple add a COVID-19 tracking app to your smartphone?

He said completed interviews with people testing positive for COVID-19 have allowed tracers to identify and reach more than 1,300 symptomatic people and help them quickly isolate, preventing up to 4,000 potential new cases in New York City.

"Successful contact tracing is a key way we are going to keep the virus suppressed," he said. "If you remove that key piece of the puzzle, you run the risk the virus could come back and more quickly. The way we are going to keep that going is by working with New Yorkers. The program is only as strong as you make it."

To help improve the number of people tracers reach, the city is launching the next phase of the contact tracing program, which involves several hundred community engagement specialists who will be out knocking on doors of individuals they could not reach by phone.

The city is also working to improve access to testing and increase the speed in which results are delivered to further enhance the success of the tracing program as well as individuals' ability to quickly seek care if they need it.

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