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Cuomo outlines plan for ‘tracing army’ to tame outbreak

Marina Villeneuve and Michael Hill

Albany, N.Y. – Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg will help create a “tracing army” that will help find people infected with the coronavirus and get them into isolation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

New York will coordinate the massive effort with neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut, accounting for the large number of people who commute into New York City for work. Wide-scale testing, tracing and isolation are considered crucial to taming the outbreak in the hard-hit region.

FILE - This March 16, 2012 file photo shows then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a bill signing ceremony in the Red Room at the Capitol, in Albany, N.Y.

“It all has to be coordinated. There is no tracing that can work with one jurisdiction,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing.

The city of more than 8 million people is an epicenter of the pandemic and tracing infected people in the wider metropolitan area will be a gargantuan task. More than 257,000 people statewide have already tested positive for COVID-19 – a figure that likely undercounts infected residents by a substantial amount.

Now Cuomo aims to double the amount of daily tests in the state from 20,000 to 40,000.

The governor said that “we will literally need thousands” of people to trace the contacts of infected people.

The state currently has just 225 tracers with almost 500 more in New York City and its suburbs, and their efforts to contain the virus by finding people who had contact with the sick fell apart quickly as huge numbers of people in the region fell ill.

Cuomo said they will start to build a greater force of disease detectives by drawing from 35,000 medical field students at state and city universities, as well as from the state health department and other agencies. The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University will create an online curriculum and training program.

Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide support to help build and run the program. The philanthropic group also will contribute $10.5 million. Bloomberg, in a prepared statement said the ramped up testing and tracing “will help us drive the virus into a corner.”

New York City can still hire tracers independently, but there will be regional coordination. The state and its localities have as much as $1.3 billion from the federal government available to pay for tracing, Cuomo said.

Speaking shortly before Cuomo outlined his tracing plan, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined what he called a test-and-trace plan that he said would be run by the city. The mayor said once widespread testing for the virus is available the city will need as many as 5,000 to 10,000 contact tracers including city workers and employees of nonprofit groups that work with the city.

Here are other coronavirus developments in New York:

Numbers

With 474 COVID-19-related deaths on Tuesday, New York state has now recorded more than 15,000 since the outbreak began last month. It was the third straight day the death toll has been below 500.

The state figures do not include another 4,865 “probable” deaths in New York City that haven’t been confirmed by a lab test.

There were 15,599 patients hospitalized statewide, continuing a slow decline.

West Point graduation

President Donald Trump will speak at a West Point graduation ceremony being designed to keep cadets safe from the coronavirus, the U.S. Military Academy announced Wednesday.

Cadets have been home since March because of the outbreak, but the Class of 2020 will return to campus in time for the June 13 ceremony. Trump recently announced he would give the commencement address.

Graduation ceremonies at the storied academy are usually held in May in a football stadium that can hold 38,000 people. West Point officials said in a release they are working on plans for a ceremony for the 1,000-member class that will “look different.”

“The size and scope of the graduation ceremony will be determined by safety considerations for cadets and the entire West Point community,” according to the academy. Decisions on family attendance and the scope of the ceremony have yet to be made.

On Saturday, the U.S. Air Force Academy hosted a scaled-down ceremony with hundreds of graduating cadets sitting in chairs eight feet apart on the school’s parade field, instead of its stadium. The pandemic forced the academy to close the ceremony to visitors.

Gridlock protest

Several dozen protesters outside the state Capitol waved signs calling on Cuomo to lift social distancing restrictions as a cavalcade of horn-honking, flag-bedecked cars and pickup trucks slowly circled the block to snarl noontime traffic.

Similar “Operation Gridlock” protests have been happening across the country. “Dictator Cuomo give us our lives back,” said one Albany protester’s sign.

“I understand the concerns, and they’re valid concerns, but to take the control they’re taking, it’s out of control,” said protester Jeff Malatesta.

At his daily coronavirus briefing held while the protest was going on outside, Cuomo said he understood the economic anxiety.

“The question is how do you respond to it, and do you respond to it in a way that jeopardizes public health and possibly causes more people to die,” he said.

Fourth fireworks

The coronavirus has sunk major New York City events from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to the 50th anniversary Pride march, but the famous July Fourth fireworks extravaganza will happen in some form, de Blasio said Wednesday.

“One way or another, the show will go on,” he said. “There’s no day like the Fourth of July … and even if we have to do something different, we have to mark it in a meaningful way.”

Fireworks sponsor Macy’s said in a statement it was working with the city on “reimagining how to safely share the nation’s largest Fourth of July fireworks show with America again this year.”

Other developments

  • Two pet cats in New York state have tested positive for the coronavirus, marking the first confirmed cases in companion animals in the United States, federal officials said Wednesday. The cats, which had mild respiratory illnesses and are expected to recover, are thought to have contracted the virus from people in their households or neighborhoods.
  • The Associated Press got an exclusive look inside an emergency room in Yonkers that has been besieged by the coronavirus. “In one shift, I pronounced six people dead,” said Dr. Anthony Leno, the hospital’s director of emergency medicine.

Karen Matthews and Jennifer Peltz contributed from New York City. Mary Esch contributed from Albany, N.Y.