Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist and former mayor of New York City, will help the state develop and implement an aggressive program to test for Covid-19 and trace people who have had contact with infected individuals, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.
Health officials have said that radically increasing the current level of testing, along with tracing and isolating contacts of infected people, is necessary to prevent a resurgence of infection as states reopen businesses and social settings.
"Michael Bloomberg will design the program, design the training, he's going to make a financial contribution," Cuomo said at a news conference in Albany. "He has tremendous insight both governmentally and from a private sector business perspective in this."
Cuomo said the state continues to ramp up its capacity to test for Covid-19, adding that tracing and isolating people who have come into contact with those who test positive will be key to containing the outbreak. He also said the state is taking "random surveys" of people at "grocery stores, street corners" to recruit people to volunteer for an antibody test, which can detect whether someone has been previously infected with Covid-19.
He said this data-driven approach will help the state determine when it can reopen the economy.
Cuomo added that Johns Hopkins University and public health nonprofit Vital Strategies will also be partnering with New York to trace and isolate the virus.
"This is a monumental undertaking. We're all going to do it," Cuomo said. "You don't have months to do this, you have weeks to do this super-ambitious undertaking."
Covid-19 has infected more than 258,500 people across the state as of Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins. Cuomo said the task of tracing the contacts of that many people is "extraordinarily impossible."
Bloomberg will contribute "upwards of $10 million" to the state's testing, tracing and isolating effort, according to Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor. Cuomo added that $1.3 billion in federal funding is available to the state for contact tracing.
Bloomberg is also putting together "an organization that can help hire the people, because we have to expand this number tenfold," Cuomo said.
"We're all eager to begin loosening restrictions on our daily lives and our economy. But in order to do that as safely as possible, we first have to put in place systems to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus and support them as they isolate," Bloomberg said in a statement.
The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins will build an online curriculum and training program for contact tracers, Bloomberg Philanthropies said in a release. The organization said it will partner with the New York Department of Health to recruit "contact tracer candidates" from a variety of state agencies, counties and public universities.
A panel will review the efficacy of the program to create a replicable model for other states and countries, Bloomberg Philanthropies said.
"He's helping us to design the programmatic, operational, and technological components of our contact tracing program," DeRosa said. "They in partnership with us are creating an online curriculum to train the tracers, to recruit them, to interview, to perform the background checks and then we're going to coordinate all the counties and also with New Jersey and Connecticut."
Last month, Bloomberg abandoned a bid to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination after spending almost $1 billion. The media mogul's campaign never gained traction despite garnering wide-spread press attention. By the time he quit, Bloomberg had only won 46 delegates during primary and caucus contests.
Cuomo said the state already has "about 500 tracers," adding that most of them are employed by New York City and the counties of Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk.
"The tracing will start — it's actually starting now. But it has to be brought to a level that nobody even imagined before," he said.
Cuomo announced the new testing program a day after meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington. Trump committed to working with New York to double the number of tests the state conducts each day to 40,000, Cuomo said.
Total hospitalizations in New York state are dropping, Cuomo said, as are intubations, but the number of people being hospitalized "is still troublingly high." He said 474 people died due to Covid-19 on Tuesday, down slightly from 481 on Monday.