Photo by Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office on Flickr
The city plans to hire about 2,500 contact tracers by next month in an effort to track and stop the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday. The citywide effort involves finding close contacts of someone who tested positive for the virus, and then interviewing and testing them. According to the mayor, the city has received 7,000 applications for contact tracing positions and more than 500 are currently undergoing training.
The city is looking for applicants with health backgrounds and an “understanding of racism and its impact on underrepresented communities.” Salaries for contact tracers start at $57,000 per year. The first 535 tracers that are undergoing training produced by Johns Hopkins University have not been officially hired, but 1,000 tracers are expected to be deployed initially.
The Test and Trace Corps involves providing a safe place to isolate if not possible at home, which could mean in a hotel. The city will provide meals, medical support, laundry, and pet services if needed.
On Friday, de Blasio announced a plan to “test, trace, and treat” every case of COVID-19 as part of an initiative with the NYC Health + Hospitals. The plan transfers the oversight of the contact tracing program from the city’s Health Department, which has previously conducted tracing for diseases like HIV and Ebola, to Health +Hospitals, a controversial move seen motivated by a political feud.
According to Politico, the DOH has questioned de Blasio’s judgment and his handling of the current health crisis. But the mayor dismissed any criticism of his decision. “My job is not to ensure people’s happiness who work for 8.6 million New Yorkers,” he said on Friday. “This is not about happiness. This is about effectiveness.”
“We’re the health department. We’re supposed to do this. That’s our job. But they took this away,” one DOH employee told Politico. “To take that away from a health authority that’s actively working on a response? They’re basically cutting off our hands.”
Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said the DOH is “committed to ongoing collaboration with all of our sister agencies to make sure we bring this epidemic to an end quickly and continue saving lives,” as the Wall Street Journal reported.
City Council Corey Johnson said the transfer of the contact tracing program to Health + Hospitals “raises a lot of alarm bells.” On Friday, Johnson, who called for a council hearing on the mayor’s decision, tweeted: “This is a distraction when we need to be focused on battling this virus.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is building a statewide tracing program; it’s expected to be one of the largest of its kind in the country. The state is looking to hire as many as 17,000 contact tracers starting this month.
The mayor on Tuesday also announced 12 new COVID-19 testing sites that will open over the next three weeks. New locations include Staten Island’s Prince’s Bay, Concord, Port Richmond, Woodside in Queens, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, Canarsie, Fordham Manor and Melrose in the Bronx, and East Harlem.
By the week of May 25, the total testing capacity citywide should hit about 10,700 tests per day. Within a few months, de Blasio said he hopes to be able to test 50,000 per day.
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