New York City has said it will end its primary coronavirus contact tracing program next month, in yet another sign that officials across the United States are changing how they deal with the coronavirus threat.
“Trace will end at the end of April – giving us a final eight weeks to complete your current work and prepare New Yorkers for the next phase as we learn to live with Covid,” said Dr. Ted Long, the executive director of the Test program. and Trace from the city, wrote in an email, shared with The New York Times, which was sent Monday evening to the city’s remaining contact tracers.
People working as contact tracers also received a second email notifying them that their contracts would end at the end of April and inviting them to apply for other positions in the city’s public hospital system.
On Tuesday, two of the city’s contact tracers, who requested anonymity to discuss a policy that had not yet been made public, said they had been waiting for the program to end for months. One of them added that he was surprised that the program lasted so long.
In early January, when New York State was overwhelmed with the Omicron variant, state officials announced that local health departments did not need to trace every case, but the city still maintained its program. Then on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines and no longer recommends “universal case investigation and contact tracing for Covid-19.”
Dr. Long pointed to this new federal recommendation as a key reason the city is ending its program, along with the recent steep decline in cases and widespread vaccination.
“Over 96% of adults in New York have received at least one dose of the vaccine,” he wrote to Tracers. “We have very effective treatments, including a new oral medicine that can be delivered the same day at home. Having these strong protections in place defines a new phase of the pandemic where we can learn to live with Covid. »
As of Jan. 25, the program, which began in June 2020, employed about 2,000 contact tracers, according to the city. Much of their work was connecting New Yorkers with resources to help them self-isolate, such as free hotel stays and community organizations that could provide free food and other deliveries. . During the pandemic, the program provided 33,000 hotel stays and delivered more than 2 million meals, the city said.
Many immunocompromised Americans feel left behind by the lifting of precautions and restrictions across the country, and the CDC continues to recommend contact tracing for the coronavirus in high-risk settings like nursing homes and shelters for homeless. A city spokesperson said Tuesday that the city would continue to trace in those settings, but that responsibility would fall to the health department. The main coronavirus tracing program has until now been run by the city’s public hospital corporation, a move that has sparked controversy.
After the main tracing program ends at the end of April, people who test positive will receive a text message about resources that can help, including a new program to deliver antiviral pills. (They can also call a city hotline, 212-COVID19.) The city’s large-scale virus testing program, which continues to operate at about 150 testing sites, has not been directly affected by the Monday announcement.
“The city supports the CDC’s recommendations to reduce contact tracing in the future,” Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner, said in a statement. “As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, we must adapt our public health responses, while continuing to provide resources to New Yorkers. »
On Monday, New York City is expected to stop requiring masks in public schools and begin allowing patrons to enter restaurants and other indoor public places without showing proof of vaccination, provided reports of new cases in the city remain relatively low. Disease experts are divided on the timing of these moves, with some saying it’s too early and others saying it’s time to tread carefully.