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How contact tracing works in Erie County

Posted at 6:34 PM, May 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-09 18:34:08-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Contact tracing is one of the seven criteria t o reopen individual counties in New York. Each county health department is expected to set up a system in which it tracks those who have come in contact with an individual with COVID-19. Governor Cuomo said contact tracing is key to reopening the entire state.

Contact tracing begins with an initial COVID-19 diagnosis. This index case is determined by the results of a nasal swab test.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said once an index case of the virus is confirmed, the Erie County Health Department finds out who that person has been in contact with.

The contact tracer will reach out to people who meet a certain criteria:

  • spent at least 15 minutes with the COVID positive person
  • within two days of the onset of his or her symptoms/positive test result
  • within six feet of that COVID positive person, especially if not wearing a mask

“We will inform them that they need to be in quarantine, and we'll explain to them what quarantine is. We'll explain how they can be released form quarantine, and then we will strongly encourage them to get tested," said Dr. Burstein.

Governor Cuomo requires 30 contact tracers per 100,000 population. Erie County has a population of about 920,000 people, therefore about 270 contact tracers. They are all current Erie County employees.

“We have a little army of contact tracers. That army can expand or shrink depending on the number of cases we receive each day," Dr. Burstein said.

If the amount of coronavirus cases increases, the county will have to add more contact tracers.

“The less social distancing that we have in our community, the more at risk we all are of getting COVID-19," Dr. Burstein said.

This entire process becomes far more complicated if people do not continue to social distance.

“We are likely to see an increase in cases. That would end up resulting in an increased burden on our contact tracers. We would need to extend that body of contact tracers," said Dr. Burstein.

That's why Dr. Burstein said social distancing is key to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.