As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Suffolk Adds Contact Tracers

ProHEALTH Urgent Care medics collect COVID-19 test samples in Jericho on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Suffolk County is more than doubling its number of contact tracing workers, who make phone calls to investigate the spread of COVID-19, in an effort to crack down on a recent spike in cases.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday the county had an average weekly positivity rate of 2.17 percent. That means out of all county residents tested, an average of 2.17 percent tested positive for the virus each day. A week prior, the average rate was around 1 percent. The county saw a 3.8 percent positivity rate on Nov. 8, the highest it’s been since late May.

“It’s critical that we get this under control,” Bellone said. “We have been expanding [our contact tracing] team rapidly, and we’re continuing to do that throughout this week.

On Friday, the county doubled its number of case investigators from 25 to 50. On Tuesday, the number again doubled to about 100. By the end of the week, Bellone said he hopes to nearly double the number again, so close to 200 county workers will be assigned to making contact tracing calls.

Many of the investigators are existing county employees who received training earlier this week and will begin making calls immediately, Bellone said. 

Bellone attributed the sudden rise in cases to small gatherings where people are not social distancing or wearing masks. He said it’s possible that this spike could be a result of Halloween parties, even if they had less than the state limit of 50 people.

Nassau County has also seen a sharp increase in cases. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement Tuesday that the positivity rate was 3.4 percent, up from 1.4 percent on Nov. 1.

“What happens next will come down to what each of us does in the next few days and weeks,” she wrote.

Both Long Island leaders urged residents to take precautions, especially when gathering in small groups, including social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands often. Bellone said anyone who believes they may have been exposed should get tested right away.

“Getting tested is the most effective way that we can track this virus,” he said, “because if you get tested and you are positive, we can isolate people, we can quarantine people who need to be quarantined so that we can stop the virus.”

The increase in cases on Long Island reflects an uptick in cases statewide. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state positivity rate is 2.5 percent, not including microclusters in certain communities.

“What we’re seeing is what scientists predicted for months,” he said. “It really is getting much, much worse by the day.”

Related Story: How An Army of Contact Tracers Are Key To Long Island’s Reopening

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