New York City contact tracers start, reach out to 600 people

MARINA VILLENEUVE, KAREN MATTHEWS and MICHAEL HILL
In this image made from video provided by the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Gov. Cuomo signs a bill giving death benefits to the families of certain government workers who were killed by coronavirus, Saturday, May 30, 2020 in New York. (Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City contact tracers hired to contain the spread of the coronavirus reached out to all of the roughly 600 people who tested positive for the virus citywide on Monday, the first day of the program, and succeeded in reaching more than half of them, officials said Tuesday.

“On Day 1 of the program, seeking to reach several hundred people and have what could be an hour conversation with each of them was a tall order,” Dr. Ted Long, the head of the city’s contact tracing program, said at a briefing. Long said the fact that the contact tracers actually got through to more than half of the new cases “shows that the system we’re setting up is working.”

The city has hired 1,700 people for its contact tracing effort and needs to reach 2,500 in order to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s target for entering the first phase of the state’s four-step reopening process. The contact tracers are placing people infected with the virus in hotel rooms if they need to isolate themselves away from their families as well as reaching out to the close contacts of those who test positive for COVID-19.

Asked if the past week’s protests over the death of George Floyd might spark a new wave of infections, Long encouraged anyone who was at a protest to get tested for the coronavirus at one of the more than 150 free testing sites around the city. Floyd, who was black, died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.

“It starts with the testing piece, which is why we’re extending the invitation we are to anybody that’s been out there at the protests, come in for a free test, it’s close to where you live,” Long said. “We’d love to have you.”

In other coronavirus developments:

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SUMMER CAMPS

Summer days camps in New York state can open June 29, though no decision has been made yet on sleep-away camps, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

Cuomo's administration did not immediately provide details on what sort of restrictions camps would operate under.

"Our young people have experienced both the trauma and the boredom of all these weeks of lockdown. They deserve to enjoy a safe summer filled with fun,” Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein of Brooklyn said in a news release.

The green light on summer camps comes as the state continues to relax restrictions amid slow progress in taming the outbreak.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are down in New York, with an average of 154 admissions a day, compared to more than 3,000 daily at the peak of the outbreak. More than 24,000 deaths statewide have been reported in the outbreak, but the daily death toll has been under 60 for several days, with 58 new deaths recorded Monday.

Buffalo and western New York on Tuesday became the latest region of the state allowed to reopen hair salons, retail shops and offices under strict guidelines. The Albany area was on track to also move to “phase two” reopenings on Wednesday.

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SAFE TRANSIT

New York City transit officials gearing up for increased subway and bus service next week plan to make face masks and hand sanitizer available to riders and to add social distance markers to stations.

In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority detailed public health plans for when the city begins phasing in economic activity on Monday.

MTA officials wrote that subways and buses will return to full, regular service, but they’re telling customers that service will be for essential workers and essential trips during “phase one” of the reopening. They’re asking that employers stagger shifts and continue to allow for remote work.

The transit agency is requesting the city provide 3,000 “volunteers” to help distribute hand sanitizer and masks as well as the deployment of more New York City police officers to the subway system. Enforcement of the mask rule will consist of reminders, as opposed to arrests or tickets, according to the letter.

“We will need your help to ensure riders are social distancing as much as possible, deploying staff to platforms and reminding riders to move to less crowded portions of platforms and less crowded cars,” according to the MTA letter.

De Blasio had sought some of the same policies, as well as capacity limits on buses and trains to allow for social distancing.

An MTA spokesman said the agency will continue the 1 a.m.-5 a.m. subway shutdown instituted during the pandemic to disinfect the system.

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Villeneuve and Hill reported from Albany, N.Y.