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Local contact tracing for COVID-19 in NY now optional

Gov. Kathy Hochul with her hand raised, wearing green, in front of a "WE ARE NY" monitor.
Don Pollard
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 briefing in New York Jan. 11, 2022.

New York will no longer require local health departments to conduct contact tracing for people who test positive for COVID-19, state health officials said Tuesday.

The shift will help public health staff across New York focus on testing and vaccination, Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.

"The big change for New Yorkers is that if you test positive, you should no longer expect a call from your health department," Bassett said during a virtual news conference in New York City.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said the spike in COVID-19 cases complicates contact tracing, which involves calling those who test positive to identify exposed people.

"Given that we have 12,000 new cases a day, it is almost impossible to do contact tracing in the way we have been in the past," Hochul said.

Counties can now decide whether they want to trace people, according to Hochul.

Erie County officials recently stopped contact tracing, preferring to focus staff in areas like vaccination.

"The substantial volume of COVID-19 case reports in recent days has exceeded the ECDOH and NYS contact tracing capacity to individually contact every Erie County resident with a positive COVID-19 test result," the county said Jan. 2.

The Health Department asked people with a positive COVID-19 test result — either from a lab, pharmacy, medical office or at-home test — to self-isolate and notify their household and close contacts. Anyone exposed to someone who has tested positive was asked to self-quarantine, monitor for symptoms and seek a COVID test five to seven days after exposure, or sooner if symptoms develop.

Erie County on Tuesday reported 1,931 new cases of COVID-19 and a seven-day average of 2,539. Hospitalizations also continue to be a concern.

The state reported 12,540 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Monday. Hochul said she expects that number to continue to rise, particularly in upstate communities.

"It is still putting too much stress on our hospitals," Hochul said.

The state's Public Health and Health Planning Council at a Tuesday meeting approved Hochul's proposed regulation to mandate boosters for healthcare workers. Those regulations will become effective once filed with the state's Department of State.

Once effective, all healthcare workers subject to the state's current vaccine mandate will have to receive a COVID-19 booster dose within two weeks of becoming eligible, unless they have a valid medical exemption.

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