City hospitals will lead efforts to test and trace New Yorkers for coronavirus

USNS Comfort Transits to New York City
200329-N-EV253-1164 ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 29, 2020) – Hospitalman Apprentice Kaylah Jenkins dons personal protective equipment during infection control training aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) as the ship transits the Atlantic Ocean on its way to New York City in support of the nation’s COVID-19 response efforts. Comfort will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals. This allows shore-based hospitals to focus their efforts on COVID-19 cases. One of the Department of Defense’s missions is Defense Support of Civil Authorities. DoD is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, as well as state, local and public health authorities in helping protect the health and safety of the American people. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Sara Eshleman)

New York City’s public hospitals will take the lead in a city-wide effort to test and trace New Yorkers with the novel coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday.

“We’re all trying to do something that has never been done before and this is the team that knows how to think that way, knows how to build something and knows how to make it real and practical and fast and precise and something that can reach all across the five boroughs,” said de Blasio during his daily novel coronavirus press conference. 

 “Disease detectives” from the city’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene were have been in charge of tracking the spread of the virus by tracing all people that coronavirus positive New Yorkers have come into contact with and subsequently place them into quarantine if necessary. 

In May the city will deploy 1,000 what de Blasio referred to as “public health foot soldiers” to screen for the disease, trace cases and place those with the virus or potentially infected New Yorkers in isolation. By early June, the number of corp members is expected to reach 2,500, de Blasio said, and could increase depending on need. 

The decision to transfer the responsibility from the DOH, which historically takes tracks and traces infectious diseases,  to public hospitals has raised concern among city lawmakers thought.

“This plan raises a lot of alarm bells. Contact tracing is a core function of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and has been for years, ” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “This is a distraction when we need to be focused on battling this virus. The New York City Council will hold a hearing to get to the bottom of this and chart the best path forward.”

Testing for the virus will be heavily increased as well. Daily testing capacity in the city hovers at around 14,000 tests a day, according to Mayor de Blasio, but with the help of the newly appointed corp members, public hospitals are aiming to up that number to  20,000 tests a day by May 25. According to de Blasio, leaders of the corp will push 50,000 tests a day over the next few months across 300 community testing sites. 

“When you get to the level of 50,000 tests a day, 100,000 tests every two days and a million over 20 days you can see that we are now getting to the kind of extraordinary level that we need and we want to keep building all the time,” said de Blasio.