NYC Contact Tracing Shifts to Texting as Omicron Swamps System
(Bloomberg) -- New York City’s contact-tracing program is shifting to a text-message-based system amid a 960% increase in new Covid-19 cases caused by the omicron variant, city health officials said Wednesday.
The nation’s biggest city has thousands of contact tracers who previously made phone calls to infected and exposed people to trace transmission and identify case clusters. Despite the shift in method, the city isn’t shutting down its contact tracing program.
“New York City operates the largest municipal contact tracing program in the country and will continue to do so,” Ted Long, a doctor who heads the program, said in an emailed statement. “Our mission ends when the pandemic does.”
By contrast, state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said Tuesday that New York will no longer do contact tracing, in part because transmission is so high that it’s no longer effective. The omicron variant is so contagious that tracers have a “very short window for intervention to disrupt transmission,” Bassett said.
The change will let county health departments shift resources to other efforts to stem the pandemic, such as testing and vaccinations.
Densely populated New York City, however, has no plans to wind down its tracing program.
“It’s time to double down on best practices,” city Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said in an emailed statement. “We have already adjusted our contact tracing approach in schools, and we’ll continue evolving our approach for the entire city.”
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