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NYC contact tracing off to a bumpy start: report

June 22, 2020 Associated Press
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New York City’s effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus through contact tracing has been hampered by the reluctance of many people who are infected with the virus to provide information to tracers, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Times report said just 35 percent of the 5,347 City residents who tested positive or were presumed positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the contact tracing program gave information about their close contacts.

Lloyd Miller played bass in the garden of Roy Nathanson’s home in Ditmas Park as part of Make Music New York on Sunday. The concert raised funds for local restaurants and other businesses forced to close or provide only limited service during the pandemic. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the School of Public Health at Rutgers University, called the 35 percent rate for eliciting contacts “very bad.”

“For each person, you should be in touch with 75 percent of their contacts within a day,” Halkitis told the Times.

Dr. Ted Long, head of New York City’s new Test and Trace Corps, defended the program Sunday and said 69 percent of the people who complete an interview provide contacts. “We think that’s a strong start but we also do want to get that number up,” Long told The Associated Press.

A woman raised her fist in the air during a live outdoor concert by jazz pianist Kenny Barron and others during Make Music New York in Ditmas Park. The concert was one of seven being held at once from the driveways, balconies and porches of homes in the neighborhood. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

Long said the 35 percent figure cited by the Times represents everyone who the tracers reached, and some of those people, including some who have not had COVID-19 symptoms for weeks, don’t have relevant contacts to provide.

Long said he believes the program, which started June 1, will be more successful when tracers start going to people’s homes in the next week or two rather than relying on phone calls.

People applauded while listening to an outdoor concert performed by 10 musicians in front of Roy Nathanson’s home as part of Make Music New York on Sunday. Photo: Kathy Willens/AP

New York City has made huge strides in containing the outbreak since the coronavirus shutdown started in March, with more than 320 new cases reported on Thursday, down from several thousand a day during the peak of the pandemic. But officials say the contact tracing effort is crucial to preventing a resurgence, as the City entered the second phase of easing coronavirus restrictions on Monday, including outdoor dining at restaurants and in-store retail shopping.

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