CityWatch: New York City ramps up tracing and introduces ‘self-swab tests’

CityWatch

Extensive testing, both for antibodies and the virus, has been lauded as critical to the reopening process

A medical worker assists people waiting to be tested for the coronavirus in New York City April 24.


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As new data shows that one in four, or 24.7%, of the New York City residents tested for coronavirus antibodies were positive, the city is ramping up testing and tracing efforts, hiring 1,000 tracers and streamlining coronavirus testing by introducing so-called “self-swab tests.”

The latest results from the ongoing, widespread and random antibody testing, which were announced Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, could suggest that more than two million Big Apple residents have had the virus, though experts question the legitimacy of the antibody tests and how accurately their findings can be scaled to apply on a city or statewide level.

Extensive testing, both antibody and actual coronavirus testing, has been lauded as critical to the reopening process.

“The more tests you do, the faster you move toward low-level transmission of this disease,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. 

In New York City, 156,100 people have tested positive for coronavirus, 11,708 have died, and another 5,228 deaths are suspected to be due to the virus. 

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Last week, de Blasio and Cuomo both announced their plans for a widespread testing and tracing program, led by an “army of tracers” and on Monday, de Blasio said that New York City would start the process of hiring 1,000 contract tracers immediately.

“If you have experience in the health-care field, if you’re ready to lend your talents to this fight, we need you and we need you right away,” the mayor said. 

Two separate postings on the website of the Fund for Public Health NYC call for individuals with “health-related professional experience or public health training.” 

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One, requiring a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, comes with a salary of $57,000. The other, requiring a master’s degree from an accredited college or university, has a salary of $62,000.

Both have responsibilities including conducting telephone calls with persons diagnosed with COVID-19; providing follow-up instructions to those individuals and to their contacts related to isolation/quarantine; providing people with approved information about isolation and quarantine procedures, and if appropriate, referring them to testing; and protecting and maintaining individuals’ privacy and confidentiality. 

It was not immediately clear whether former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be involved in the hiring and training process for the city hires, though it was announced on Wednesday that he would be spearheading the program for the state.

The recruitment drive is part of the city’s efforts to build a contact tracing network “like never seen before on a vast scale,” de Blasio said. “So, every time someone tests positive, immediately we can swing into action, figure out who were their close contacts, get those people tested to isolate anyone who needs isolation.”

The mayor also announced a streamlined and less invasive process for coronavirus testing

Currently, all tests are administered by a health-care worker, in full personal protective equipment, who swabs far inside a patient’s nose. 

Also see: Optimism over phased reopenings only slightly tempered by continued concerns over inadequate testing for COVID-19 virus

The new approach, according to de Blasio, would require the patient taking “something that’s basically a sterile Q-tip,” and taking a nose swab. “They don’t have to go way deep, just enough to get a sample,” according to the mayor. 

They would also provide a saliva sample. 

“Those two samples provide enough information for the testing to be done,” de Blasio said. “Much simpler, much easier for everyone involved, no chance to cause the same kind of sneezing that that long swab way up the nose does. Simpler but also safer, especially for that health-care worker.”

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