Contact Tracing Has 'Very Bad' Start in NYC

Success rate in gathering information from infected people is 35%
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2020 1:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – As society reopens, health experts say, contact tracing will be key to controlling the spread of the coronavirus. "Without population-level social distancing measures," said one, "then we don't have really another tool to control the threat." Dr. Crystal Watson of Johns Hopkins wants Congress to approve $3.6 billion for contact tracing and related efforts, the Deseret News reports. New York City has already plunged into the effort, hiring 3,000 people for it, and early returns aren't encouraging. The workers are often unable to find and collect information from infected people, per the New York Times. In the first two weeks, just 35% of 5,347 patients who were known or thought to be infected gave information to the tracers about people they'd been in close contact with.

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Some people left their interviews before anyone with the Test and Trace Corps asked about contacts, while others said they were at home the whole time and weren't in contact with anyone. Many who had tested positive just didn't give any information over the phone, per the Times. On the bright side, program leader Ted Long said almost everyone called by staffers did answer the phone. Tracers will soon start going to the patients' homes, which Long expects to improve their success rate. That 35% is "very bad," an expert said, and there's an urgency to the situation: "For each person, you should be in touch with 75% of their contacts within a day." (Australia pinned its hopes on an app and a strong response.)

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