After receiving positive news last night from the White House in regards to federal support for testing, Governor Cuomo today revealed new details on the contact-tracing-isolation program that the state will begin implementing immediately in conjunction with increased testing. Former NYC Mayor and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to help develop this program, which will operate across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Bloomberg Philanthropies has also made a financial contribution of $10.5 million.
Slide from Governor Cuomo’s 4/22/20 press presentation
In his meeting with Trump yesterday, the governor and federal agreement agreed on a partnership that will double New York State’s testing capacity from 20,000 to 40,000. Once these tests are all up and running, those who test positive will need their contacts traced and isolated, which is where the “army of tracers” that was announced today comes in.
In partnership with Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies, Bloomberg will build an online curriculum and training program. The Bloomberg Philanthropies team will also work with the New York State DOH to identify and recruit contact tracer candidates, which will include DOH staff and investigators from state agencies. Currently, there are a little over 700 tracers in the downstate counties. To get the program up to scale, 35,000 SUNY and CUNY students in medical fields will serve as tracers, however, the governor said thousands of such workers will be needed.
Bloomberg Philanthropies has also made a $10.5 million contribution. “He has tremendous insight both governmentally and from a private sector business perspective in this,” Cuomo said of Bloomberg.
The governor did admit the program is a “super ambitious undertaking” and that they have only weeks to get it up and running. “It will be expensive, challenging, and require an army of tracers. But it must be done.”
A member of the press questioned whether this is a good use of funds since some consider COVID to already be endemic. But Cuomo said, “you do the best you can,” noting that for every person you are able to isolate, that’s one less person passing the virus on. He also referenced certain countries that have implemented a “herd immunity” theory but said that these countries are operating at a 50-60 percent infection rate, whereas he estimates that in the high-infection areas downstate it will be about 10 percent.
Earlier today, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a similar but separate plan called “test and trace.” Included in it is an emphasis on testing in NYCHA housing, as well as providing hotel rooms for those who test positive and need a place to isolate. Governor Cuomo said the state’s effort will work in coordination with any local plans since tracing must be done on a regional level.
According to Forbes, Michael Bloomberg is the eighth-richest person in the world with a net worth of $53.4 billion. He recently spent $1 billion on a failed presidential campaign. He was the mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. Bloomberg Philanthropies has been involved in the COVID-19 response from the beginning, first announcing a network of support for mayors facing the crisis on March 10th.
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