With now more than 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases across the U.S., everyone is looking for answers. Communities across the country are sheltering in place, and most non-essential businesses have either closed or changed their modes of operation. In order to reduce the spread of coronavirus across New York state, which has reported 257,216 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 15,302 deaths as of Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in talks of putting together a "tracing army."
“When you find a positive person, trace it back and isolate,” Cuomo said in a Wednesday briefing. The New York governor will work with former New York City mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg to lead the effort in the tri-state area.
The effort to create a tracing army will be coordinated with New Jersey and Connecticut, which account for a large number of commuters into New York for work. “It all has to be coordinated. There is no tracing that can work with one jurisdiction,” Cuomo said. The announcement comes just one day after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to trace and isolate cases in the city, too.
So what exactly is a tracing army? The tracing program will essentially be implemented by tracking down every person who has contracted the virus, and following up with them to conduct interviews about every person they came in contact with. The goal of tracing is to treat and isolate individuals who have contracted or been in contact with the virus for 14 days in an effort to reduce its spread across the state, all of which will be done through widespread expansion of diagnostic testing.
The program is being designed with the help of Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies and the governor is starting to build a great force of tracers. There are currently just 500 tracers across the state, with plans to add thousands more. The program will draw from 35,000 medical field students at state and city universities, from the state health department, and from other agencies, according to ABC News.
A report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials estimated that approximately 100,000 contact tracers will need to be added to the public health workforce. The effort would require approximately $3.6 billion in emergency funding in Congressional funding.
In order to effectively track down people with COVID-19, the state will also have to implement widespread testing. The White House has agreed to help ramp up testing efforts in New York, as Cuomo plans to double the amount of daily tests in the state from 20,000 to 40,000, ABC News reports.
Germany, Singapore, and South Korea have all implemented tracing programs of their own, and are experiencing a lower rate of infections and fewer deaths as a result, Cuomo said in his briefing. “You don’t have months to plan and do this,” he said. “You have weeks to get this up and running.”
Bloomberg and his charitable giving network Bloomberg Philanthropies have pledged to donate $10.5 million to the effort. The federal government has also agreed to pour $1.3 billion into the state to help with funding for the tracing program.