There are three things that New York City must do to suppress the coronavirus, starting with testing as many New Yorkers as possible to learn who is positive, followed by figuring out if they infected other people and then providing them with assistance during the time they need to quarantine.

That’s according to the executive director of the Test & Trace Corps at NYC Health + Hospitals, Dr. Ted Long, who participated virtually yesterday in Community Board 8 Manhattan’s third installment on Contact Tracing.

“If there is one thing you take away from me here this evening, it’s that our program is only as strong as everybody in New York City participates in and the tracers themselves. This is very much a local effort, and it’ll only be as successful as we’re able to work together,” said Long.

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With regard to testing, as noted, the city has to be testing more people daily.

“The first thing we must do as a city is we must do a lot of testing for coronavirus [because] if we don’t test enough people and don’t find people that are positive, we can’t trace them, and we can’t figure out whom we need to help to offer services to,” Long said.

He added that in the early days of testing, the program was testing approximately 10,000 New Yorkers every single day; it is now testing daily 30,000 New Yorkers.

So, as the program tests and figures out who has the coronavirus the next thing to do is to figure out among those who are infected who did they potentially infect as well.

“In other words, who did they expose as contacts, and that’s what contact tracing is,” noted Long.

It involves talking to people who are newly diagnosed and figuring out how the program can reach out to people that are high-risk for having been exposed to the coronavirus. The program has a team of more than 3,000 tracers who call every single new case and talks to the infected and figures out with them who the contacts are that need to be located.

“Because if you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus, it can take up to 14 days for the virus to present itself, we call this a 14-day incubation period. So, if you’ve been exposed, we want you to stay home for 14 days without running the risk of exposing others to the virus,” added Long.

The third part of the program involves helping those who are infected by providing services. The hospital created a new role, the resource navigator, which pairs up New Yorkers with things like food delivery, medications and even help with things like eviction threats.

“So, it’s important we give New Yorkers a way to get through this. There’s a lot we can do to help you and for thousands of New Yorkers I’m proud to say that we have been able to help so far,” said Long.

The board then had the opportunity to ask questions; Russel Squire, co-chair of CB 8 Manhattan’s environment and sanitation committee, said it sounds too good to be true that if someone who may be infected is in a situation where the person lives with other people and therefore cannot self-isolate the city will pay for them to stay in a hotel.

Long explained that, indeed, if someone can’t safely self-separate, the resource navigator will drive the person to a hotel free of charge, provide pajamas free of charge and the entire stay, including being medically monitored, as well as meals, is free of charge.

“It does sound like it is too good to be true but it is 100 percent true. We have thought about this very carefully, and we’re proud to be able to offer this,” Long said.  

Squire also asked about what types of questions do the contact tracers ask when they call.

First, Long, explained, that after someone is tested at one of the more than 200 testing sites across the city, the results from the test get uploaded to a state database and from there the contact tracers draw from the results to base their questions.

The tracers then ask a host of questions to learn about any symptoms, followed by whom the person may have been in contact with, as well as if they’ve been to any congregant settings such as a nursing home or health care facility.

“So, by the time you are off the phone call with us,  we’ve talked about your symptoms to make sure you are okay, pairing you up with a clinician if necessary, as well as asking you about people, contacts and gatherings where you may have been exposed to others, and we conclude by asking you how can we help.” 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced three weeks ago that NYC public schools will reopen in the fall with a combination of in-person and remote learning. One of the last questions Long was asked was whether there is a specific school-oriented plan for contact tracing, to which he replied the Mayor will soon be releasing specifics.