COVID Live Updates: NYC contact tracing program set to end next month

COVID-19 Live Updates, News and Information
NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York City's coronavirus contact tracing program will end its universal tracing efforts toward the end of the next month, with officials citing a significant caseload drop, high vaccination rates, and new treatments as the rationale.

"Having these strong protections in place defines a new phase in the pandemic where we can learn to live with COVID," said Dr. Ted Long, executive director of NYC Test & Trace Corps, in an email sent to workers on Monday.

The city's email came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that said universal contact tracing was not recommended.

Officials said the universal tracing program would end in eight weeks, though contact tracing in high-risk congregate settings like nursing homes would continue under the auspices of the city's health department.

The city started its tracing program in June 2020 after the initial COVID surge and remained committed to what seems to have been the biggest effort among U.S. cities even after other locales scaled back.

RELATED: What are the symptoms of the COVID omicron variant?

Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:



Newark lifts vaccine, mask mandates
Mayor Ras Baraka announced that effective Wednesday, Newark is lifting the proof of vaccination mandate, and will no longer require persons to wear face masks while indoors in public places. Businesses will have the option to require people and employees to wear face masks while inside. It is strongly recommended that buildings housing seniors/and or the disabled require the wearing of face masks in public and common areas.

New CDC maps on COVID community levels
The CDC released new maps on the basis for the federal government's guidance on mask-wearing and other safety precautions for your local communities.



Graphics not displaying correctly? Click here to open the map in a new window, and click here to open the table in a new window.

Mask mandate lifted for students in most NY school districts; NYC decision coming soon
Another step toward normalcy was taken Wednesday as New York state lifted its school mask mandate. That means local districts can decide to make masks optional, and on Friday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams says he will make a decision about the city's school mandate. If all goes according to plan, the mayor says he will lift the mandate on Monday. But for other districts across the state, it was a brand new day.

Hochul pushes to make to-go drinks permanent in New York
Gov. Kathy Hochul went to a Brooklyn wine bar Wednesday morning to push her proposal to make to-go drinks -- a pandemic favorite that received pushback from liquor stores -- permanent.

"Century-old restrictions that have no basis in reality anymore" forbid restaurants and bars from selling to-go drinks, which gained popularity during the pandemic, she said. "We are proposing to permanently allow bars and restaurants to sell to-go drinks. We saw that this is a critical revenue stream."

Hochul said she wants to add 39 workers to the State Liquor Authority dedicated solely to help process the more than 75,000 applications for liquor licenses every year.

COVID to no longer 'dictate how we live,' according to White House's newly released pandemic plan
The White House on Wednesday released a sweeping new 96-page plan on COVID, marking a new era in the pandemic in which the virus is still circulating but can hopefully be managed so that Americans can return to daily life without disruption.

The strategy, that President Joe Biden previewed Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, calls for making available more free rapid tests online starting next week, as well as setting up pharmacy clinics later this month that will hand out free antiviral pills to people who test positive.

The plan also promises the ability to mass produce 1 billion doses of vaccine each year so that a new formula can be delivered within 100 days in the event of an aggressive new variant. The administration also vows to continue its efforts to provide vaccinations globally to help prevent future mutations.

NYC Schools Chancellor Banks unveils 4 pillars for 'new normal' in the public school system
New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks, in his first major policy announcement, unveiled four pillars in creating a "new normal" in the public school system.

He said 120,000 families left the city public school system in the past five years.

"You wrap your mind around that for a moment, 120,000 families decided to vote with their feet," Banks said. "And that's an indictment of the work that we have done."

Americans can order another round of free at-home COVID tests next week
Americans can order additional free at-home COVID-19 tests supplied by the US government starting next week.

"If you already ordered free tests, tonight, I'm announcing you can order another group of tests," President Joe Biden said during his Tuesday State of the Union address. "Go to CovidTest.gov starting next week and you can get more tests."

In January, the government launched its effort to provide free rapid antigen tests to any household that requested them through that website or by calling 800-232-0233. There was a limit of four tests per residential address.

The website now says every home in the US can order an additional set of four tests starting next week.

Masks optional at Brooklyn, Queens Catholic schools
Catholic Academies and Parish Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens, made face coverings an individual choice for staff and a parental choice for all students starting on Wednesday. However, city funded Pre-K-3 and Pre-K-4 programs will need to continue to wear masks as required by the New York City Department of Education.

Our America: Health Equity & COVID | Watch full panel discussion
ABC Owned Television Stations and Participant have joined forces to present "Our America: Health Equity & COVID," a series of conversations focusing on health equity and supporting the mental health and wellness of our health care workers. The first conversation will be grounded in "The First Wave," a documentary from National Geographic Documentary Films and director Matthew Heineman, and will focus on the issues facing health care workers both since and before the start of the pandemic, as well as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. It comes on the heels of Congress' passage of the Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which aims to improve mental and behavioral health among health care providers and health care workers, and is a timely reminder of the inequities pervading our health systems.

How many times can I reuse my N95 mask?
How many times can I reuse my N95 mask? It depends, but you should be able to use N95s and KN95s a few times. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says health care workers can wear an N95 mask up to five times. But experts say how often the average person can safely wear one will vary depending on how it's used. Using the same mask to run to the grocery store, for example, is very different than wearing it all day at work.

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