New York ending COVID-19 contact tracing amid 'hope' omicron wave is cresting
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced New York would end COVID-19 contact tracing efforts amid early signs the highly contagious omicron variant wave is cresting.
New Yorkers who test COVID-19 positive or have known close exposures to the coronavirus will be directed to self-report their isolation and quarantine through a state-run website.
The website, which is launching Wednesday, will provide people with isolation-related documents required by many employers and other settings, state officials said.
The move comes as the daily COVID-19 case total statewide declined recently, dropping to 48,686 on Monday from about 54,800 the prior day and well below the recent peak of 90,100 on Saturday.
"We are not at the end, but I want to say...this is a glimmer of hope," Hochul said at a media briefing in Manhattan, referring to the daily case numbers.
But the most drastic outbreak declines are unfolding in New York City, which was hit first and hardest by the omicron variant in early December. The downward trend in cases is expected to be delayed by up to two weeks for many upstate counties, Hochul added.
In a sign of the continued omicron threat to upstate communities, Hochul announced all hospitals in the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley and Central New York regions would be halting elective care to free up beds due to staffing shortages and COVID-19 patient burdens.
"We’re still looking at a situation that we’re addressing very seriously," Hochul said, adding the strains are heightened for hospitals serving communities with comparatively lower COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to climb recently, reaching 12,540 on Monday. But hospitalizations lag behind cases by several weeks, state officials said, adding new data suggests up to 42% of the hospitalizations involved patients admitted to hospitals for non-COVID health conditions.
Health officials would consider resuming elective care at the hospitals in those upstate regions in two weeks. There is also a list of 40 hospitals statewide that have suspended elective care as they are operating at below 10% staffed bed capacity.
Why NY is ending COVID contact tracing
The move to end COVID-19 contact tracing in New York, in part, conceded the massive scope of omicron variant cases — which are proving less severe than prior strains such as the delta variant — rendered contact-tracing investigations ineffective.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the omicron variant also has a very short incubation period and many more people are being tested.
"So the result is a very large number of people who tested positive and a very short window to disrupt the chain of transmission," she said, adding public health workers currently involved in contact tracing would be redirected to focus on COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts
Some counties, including Rockland and Putnam in the Hudson Valley, had previously asked people to alert others about possible exposure and set up a system that lets people generate their own isolation letters for work, school, or public aid. County leaders had said staff were too overwhelmed by soaring COVID cases to keep up.
Hochul on Jan. 11 noted county officials would still be allowed to continue local contact tracing efforts, if they chose, despite the state moving its efforts online. It wasn't immediately clear Jan. 11 if New Yorkers would be able to call a telephone hotline run by the state to obtain isolation documents.
Nancy Cutler of The Journal News/lohud contributed to this report.David Robinson is the state health care reporter for the USA TODAY Network New York. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter:@DrobinsonLoHud