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Contact tracers: Does Erie County have enough to re-open?

Posted at 6:22 PM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 18:22:49-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Contact tracing is key to re-opening WNY, it's one of the seven benchmarks we need to reach to get approved by the state.

"In order for us to come down this mountain, you've gotta know your trails and I think contact tracers are actually guiding us how to get off this mountain," said Dr. Raul Vazquez, CEO of Urban Family Practice in Buffalo.

Contact tracing is the process of tracking people down who have tested positive for COVID-19 and who they may have come into contact with so people can quarantine and stop the spread. As of May 12, WNY is meeting the State's requirement and is marked as "expected", but not checked "yes".

"Erie county has enough contact tracers for what we're doing right now. We have about 30 individuals working on contact tracing now," said Erie County Mark Poloncarz.

The state requires 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents. Based on that, Erie County needs to have 277 contact tracers, meaning Erie County is falling short by more than 200 tracers.

Poloncarz says more than 150 county workers are being trained and the State is hiring more to fill that gap.

"They've marked us in the check box because we've got enough contact tracers to address what we're dealing with right now, we're ramping up to address the future and so are they," said Poloncarz.

Local health providers like Urban Family Practice can do contact tracing on their own with their patient database. Dr. Vazquez has more than 90 contact tracers looking over more than 8,000 patients.

"The county needs to start to tap into it's primary care network around the area. You can't test and trace separately. They've gotta combine, if not it's not going to work," said Dr. Vazquez.

Vazquez hopes to help fill the gap. He says the more contact tracers there are, the easier it is to stop the spread and safer it will be to re-open.