New York City’s contact tracing program is trying to hire additional COVID-19 detectives on Staten Island as the borough’s coronavirus infection rate grows.
The seven-day average of positive tests there sits at 4.2%, currently the highest rate in New York City. But in some Staten Island neighborhoods, the positive test rate is as high as 5.9%.
Staten Island University Hospital’s north campus, meanwhile, currently has 80 patients with COVID-19, the highest number in the city.
“Even though the NYC Test & Trace Corps currently has the capacity to perform contact tracing at a case rate higher than the city’s current level, City Hall has called on Test & Trace to continue expanding, especially as COVID cases are increasing across the city,” Bill Neidhardt, a City Hall spokesperson, said in a statement.
Neidhardt didn’t respond to a request for the number of new contact tracers being sought.
The city currently has about 1,300 contact tracers that work within city Health and Hospitals. But few of them live in Staten Island, according to Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, which represents the tracers.
“We are not getting a lot of resumes from Staten Island,” he said, noting that the city has found little problem filling tracer positions in other areas of the city. The job pays between $57,000 and $65,000 a year.
Contact tracers have reached out to 90% of people infected with the coronavirus, but only 63% of all New Yorkers contacted have completed intake forms. Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged earlier this week that the workers can’t find the source of 80% of cases investigated so far.
City Councilmember Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) told THE CITY that “it’s great” that the borough is receiving more support, but called on City Hall to make the program more effective.
“If they’re used to actually trace contacts, there’s a clear benefit,” said Borelli, who sparked an uproar after asserting that he’d defy Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s orders to limit indoors gatherings and have more than 10 people over for Thanksgiving.
“But every time I’ve asked whether there’s any tracing back to specific sources or outbreaks of coronavirus, I’m never ever given that answer,” he added.
Other Staten Island politicians welcomed the expansion.
Councilmember Debi Rose (D-Staten Island), whose North Shore district had a disproportionate share of the borough’s COVID-19 cases back in the spring, encouraged borough residents to cooperate with contact tracers.
“These tools only work if we use them,” she said in a statement. I urge all my constituents to get tested and to respond to any calls from contact tracers.”
“If there is a specific outreach to hire Staten Islanders to help Staten Island do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus, that is fine by me,” Borough President James Oddo said in a statement.
The South Shore’s high COVID-19 rate marks a reversal from this past spring, when its suburban neighborhoods recorded a much lower death rate than the North Shore, THE CITY reported.
Towards the end of May, 14 of about 15,000 South Shore residents had died of COVID-19, compared to 163 of about 41,000 in Stapleton, a North Shore neighborhood.