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New York county health departments no longer required to do COVID contact tracing

Dr. Mary Bassett speaks during a news conference on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in New York. Bassett was appointed New York's Health Commissioner by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sept. 29, 2021.
Mary Altaffer
/
Associated Press

New York county health departments are no longer obligated to do contact tracing for COVID-19 cases, according to an announcement on Tuesday by state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett and Governor Kathy Hochul.

Bassett said that record-breaking case numbers due to the highly contagious Omicron variant has made contact tracing more difficult. There’s also a tighter window for health departments to disrupt transmission, because of omicron’s short incubation period.

For this reason, the state will help county health departments focus more on testing and vaccination efforts.

“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. “We’re moving to more self-management when a person has either tested positive or been exposed to someone who tested positive, and less active outreach by departments.”

Governor Hochul said that the state will leave it up to counties to decide whether or not to do contact tracing. Some counties have expressed concern over a lack of the staff and resources needed to successfully investigate cases.

“Should they decide to continue, they’re more than welcome to, but this is in response to their requests — given that we have 12,000 new cases a day, it is almost impossible to do contact tracing the way we have in the past,” Hochul said.

Bassett added that New Yorkers should follow guidance through the state’s new isolation and quarantine website, which will be launched Wednesday.

The website will answer questions about isolation and quarantine protocol. People who test positive for COVID will also be able to get isolation orders to provide to their employers, Bassett said.

Residents should continue reporting home tests through their county health department websites, where they can also get isolation orders.