Coronavirus News: Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveils contact tracing pilot program amid COVID-19 pandemic

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced the state's contact tracing pilot program, with leadership from former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, that will begin in the coming weeks.

The program will focus on areas with the highest rates of infection and on regions where data shows could be the first to open, and it will operate through the next flu season, Cuomo said.

It will be implemented in coordination with New Jersey and Connecticut and will include a baseline of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 individuals.

"We know increasing our testing capacity is the key to re-opening New York, and the second step after testing is tracing to find out who tested positive, who they contacted and then isolate those people so you don't increase the rate of infection," Cuomo said. "Tracing is not hard on an individual basis. The problem is the massive scale and with an operation that has never existed before. We need our contact tracing program to come up to scale to meet what we're doing with testing as soon as possible, and we are working with Mike Bloomberg now to build an army of tracers to meet the state's demand so we can begin this operation immediately."

The pilot program will utilize additional tracers based on the projected number of cases in each region and is expected to have 6,400 to 17,000 tracers statewide depending on the projected number of cases.

Contact tracing teams will work remotely with state-of-the-art software to develop a secure database of information on the spread of the infection.

Bloomberg and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will support the State Department of Health's initiative to build an army of contact tracers through a three-step process: recruitment, interviewing and training.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will help the health department actively identify and recruit potential contact tracers for the program from state, city and county health departments.

As part of the effort, the Bloomberg School will develop an online curriculum for the state's contact tracers that includes a training program and an online exam that must be passed to complete the program. Vital Strategies' initiative Resolve to Save Lives will provide technical and operational advising to New York State Health Department staff.

"One of the most important steps to take to re-open the economy as safely as possible is to create a system of contact tracing," Bloomberg said. "When social distancing is relaxed, contact tracing is our best hope for isolating the virus when it appears - and keeping it isolated."

Experts say that contact tracing will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with four key steps. First, labs will report positive cases of COVID-19 immediately to contact tracers on a daily basis.

The contact tracer will then interview the positive patient to identify people they may have been in contact with over the past 14 days.

The contact tracer will notify and interview each contact to alert them to their risk of infection and instruct those contacts to quarantine or isolate for 14 days to be sure they don't spread COVID-19 to others.

The contact tracers will monitor those contacts by text throughout the duration of their quarantine or isolation to see if the contacts are showing any symptoms.

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