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Increasing contact tracing is key to opening up New York State

Posted at 11:31 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-04 09:39:37-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — County health officials are working on tracing where people who test positive for COVID-19 have been, and who they've been in contact with. Governor Andrew Cuomo said contact tracing is a key to reopening the state.

While testing is a way to monitor the spread of COVID-19, contact tracing helps slow it down.

Dr. Raul Vazquez, a primary care doctor at Greater Buffalo United Accountable Care Organization, said contact tracing is like detective work. When a COVID-19 test comes back positive, contact tracers then interview the patient and find out who they've seen, and where they've been, in the past 14 days.

“Who else lives in the home, right, because that’s the biggest thing," he said. "If they’re working, what form of transportation, who else was exposed to them in that time period.”

The exposed people are then notified, so that they can isolate too. Dr. Vazquez said if those people are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms they should be tested.

As for areas like grocery stores, where a person doesn't know everyone they came in contact with, Dr. Vazquez said smartphones might be able to help. Apple and Google are working on Bluetooth tracing apps. The apps are not out yet.

Contact tracing is commonly used for tracking STDs, but Cuomo said this is a larger scale of tracing than the state has ever seen.

Erie County reported 62 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday. If each person came in contact with four other people, that would amount to 248 people the tracers would have to notify and potentially test.

Cuomo said there's an effort to recruit a "tracing army."

“It’s not rocket science to do it on an individual basis, the problem is the scale," Cuomo said.

He recommends 30 tracers for every 100,000 people. The Erie County Health Department would not specify how many tracers it has, but said there are enough for the number of cases it's seeing. The health department said tracers are made up of disease investigation staff and nurses, medical students, EMTs and other health professionals.