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Local COVID contact tracing now optional in New York

January 11, 2022 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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New York will no longer require local health departments to conduct contact tracing for people who test positive for COVID-19, state health officials said Tuesday.

The shift will help public health staff across New York focus on testing and vaccination, Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.

“The big change for New Yorkers is that if you test positive, you should no longer expect a call from your health department,” Bassett said during a virtual appearance at an in-person news conference in New York City.

And Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said the spike in COVID-19 cases complicates contact tracing, which involves calling those who test positive to identify exposed people.

“Given that we have 12,000 new cases a day, it is almost impossible to do contact tracing in the way we have been in the past,” Hochul said.

Counties can now decide whether they want to trace people, she said.

The state reported 12,540 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday, Hochul said. She said she expects that number to continue to rise, particularly in upstate communities.

“It is still putting too much stress on our hospitals,” Hochul said.

Hochul’s proposed regulation to mandate boosters for health care workers was approved by the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council at a meeting Tuesday. Those regulations will come into effect once filed with New York’s Department of State.

Once in place, all health care workers subject to the state’s current vaccine mandate will have to receive a COVID-19 booster dose within two weeks of becoming eligible, unless they have a valid medical exemption.

Department of Health spokesperson Erin Silk said the administration is “grateful” for the approval, and will provide workers and employers with guidance shortly.

New York is also boosting rules for visitors at nursing homes. Starting Wednesday, visitors must wear surgical-type masks and present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of their visit.

Hochul said the state will deliver 952,000 tests and 1.2 million masks to nursing homes through next week.

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