New York City rolled out the biggest test and trace operation in the country on Friday, a key step in reopening the nation’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at his daily briefing.
“This is how we move forward,” he said, adding that the newly minted organization would reach “deep into our communities, expanding testing, expanding tracing, and really getting our arms around the problem as never before.”
The public entity, named the New York City Test and Trace Corps, will begin with 1,000 trained medical professionals who will track down suspected cases of the disease, test New Yorkers and trace their recent contacts. The containment strategy aims to get ahead of the disease before it can erupt into a full-scale outbreak that would require shutting society and businesses down again.
“The New York City Test and Trace Corps is going to be a dedicated group of trained individuals who will lead the way in creating testing and tracing in a way we’ve never seen before in this city or this country,” de Blasio said.
“We want to find everyone who is positive and trace their close contacts,” he said.
The city, in the beginnings of the recruitment process, has received nearly 7,000 applications so far and plans to hire a staff of 2,500 by June, the mayor said.
There’s certainly a pool of unemployed health-care workers available. Across New York state, more than one in 10 unemployment claims since the start of the crisis in mid-March have come from health care and social assistance employees—tens of thousands of people.
The city’s Health + Hospitals Corp. will manage the unit, led by Dr. Ted Long, the vice president of ambulatory care across the public health system; Jackie Bray, a member of the de Blasio administration who’s been acquiring and coordinating vital medical and protective equipment for the city during the crisis; and Dr. Andrew Wallach, director of ambulatory care for Bellevue Hospital, the mayor said.
New York City’s public health system, the largest in the country, has been on the front lines of COVID-19 patient care, where some of the most iconic and disturbing images of the crisis in America have emerged. So it makes sense to have the organization oversee the new Test and Trace Corps, de Blasio said.
“They bore the brunt of the single biggest attack in this whole country by this disease, and they held and they fought back,” de Blasio said.
The city will be using a program Johns Hopkins University developed with the sponsorship of Bloomberg Philanthropies to train new recruits. Billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg via his philanthropy has also committed more than $10 million to build out a tracing program at the state level.
Pandemic has completely transformed the “City That Never Sleeps,” where studies have shown nearly one in four residents have antibodies for the disease in their blood — a sign of previous infection — and where, as of Friday morning, more than 14,100 people have died (19,400 if probable COVID-19 deaths are included), according to the city health department.
New York’s now wrapping up its seventh week in near-total shutdown, with nonessential businesses closed since March 22, over 1 million children in the city home for the rest of the school year and strict social distancing measures in place, including a state mandate to wear face coverings in public. For the first time in over a century, the subway system is shutting down at night in order to sanitize train cars.
The measures have greatly changed the trajectory of the disease, said de Blasio, as he presented charts of declining hospitalizations. Roughly 100 people walked into the city’s hospitals on Wednesday, the most recent date available, down eightfold from the peak at the end of March, he said.
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There are roughly 570 people in intensive care units across the public health system, down from a peak of nearly 900.
“Overall much, much lower numbers, a good sign in the bigger scheme of things,” de Blasio said. But “not yet what we need to take the next step toward loosening restrictions.”
It could be June before the city begins to reopen parts of its economy, despite the official end to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York on Pause order on May 15. At that time, manufacturing and construction industries could restart as phase one of the state’s strategy in Central New York and other rural areas.
The state heads toward the first phase of reopening even as new information about the disease emerges everyday.
On Thursday, a 5-year-old New York City boy died from a rare inflammatory disease potentially stemming from COVID-19. The state is investigating the death and other cases like it to understand if children are more vulnerable to severe complications than previously thought, Cuomo said at his daily briefing on Friday.
The complication may present like toxic shock syndrome or Kawasaki disease, a very rare condition usually found in infants that causes swelling in the blood vessels. Still, severe complications from COVID-19 have been uncommon in young people. The state has reported three deaths in children 9 years old or younger.
“We thought that children might be vehicles of transmission, but we didn’t think children would suffer from it,” Cuomo said on Friday. “This is every parent’s nightmare.”
Other coronavirus developments in New York:
New York state’s daily death rate fell to its lowest level in six weeks, with 216 people dying from COVID-19 on Thursday.
Nevertheless, daily hospitalizations have been stubborn to decline, with roughly 600 more New Yorkers walking into hospitals on Thursday, according to statewide data.
The state has disbursed $6.8 billion in unemployment benefits to New Yorkers, as the federal government reported the nation’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7% in April.