New York City plans to hire 1,000 health workers to track coronavirus cases as well as anyone who has come into contact with someone who's tested positive for Covid-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.
"We are hiring. We are looking for talented, experienced health workers," de Blasio said at a news briefing. "If you have experience in the health care field, if you're ready to lend your talents to this fight, we need you and we need you right away. We are hiring immediately and we'll be hiring throughout the month of May."
The city's team of contact tracers will interview and identify people who have come into contact with those who tested positive for Covid-19, said de Blasio, who called them "disease detectives." The tracers will also provide support to New Yorkers who need to be isolated, de Blasio said.
Capacity to test broadly throughout the population and to trace contacts with those who test positive for Covid-19 are crucial elements in the state and city's plans to lift restrictions and reopen, de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have previously said.
De Blasio said the city is building "A contact tracing network in this city like it's never been seen before on a vast scale. Every time someone tests positive, immediately we can swing into action, figure out who were their close contacts and get those people tested to isolate anyone who needs isolation."
The city is looking for people with a background in health care, de Blasio said, urging people to apply through the Fund for Public Health. De blasio said the new tracers will partner with the city's health care personnel as well as staff from various city agencies who are being trained for the job.
"This is really the key," de Blasio said. "Finally getting testing on a large scale, tracing people, isolating everyone who needs it. Doing that is the path forward."
Last week, Gov. Cuomo announced that Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist and former mayor of New York City, pledged to help the state develop and implement an aggressive test and trace program. Cuomo said this data-driven approach will help the state determine when it can reopen the economy.
Covid-19 has infected more than 158,258 people in New York City. It's unclear how many contacts the city hopes to trace.
The number of Covid-19 hospitalizations appears to be on the decline, de Blasio said, as do the number of people with Covid-19 in intensive care units across the city's public hospital locations, Health + Hospitals.
"Progress, but not enough progress," de Blasio said. "Everything we're doing is affecting these indicators. Let's keep doing it."
He said that there will now be eight Health + Hospital community testing sites around the city. Since the start of the initiative two weeks ago, there have been over 5,000 tests conducted, he said. The city hopes to increase those numbers to 10,000 tests or more per week.
De Blasio also announced new tests that would allow people to administer self-swab tests, helping to protect health-care workers from exposure to the virus. The current test process has been a "slow and elaborate" challenge for many healthcare workers, as they have had to take strict precautions against patients exposed to the virus.
"There is a better way to do testing. There is an easier way to do testing. There is a safer way to do testing and we're going to start that this week at our Health + Hospital clinics right here in New York City," De Blasio announced.
The new self-swab testing will allow patients to conduct a simple nasal swab with sterile Q-tips and a saliva test by spitting into a cup. Those two samples will provide sufficient information for the testing to be done, according to the mayor.
As the self-swab method helps the city expand its testing capacity, de Blasio called for stronger partnership with private labs to "step up" and process these tests.
"Testing is the way forward and it's been a long fight to get the testing we need, the ability to give the tests," he said.