Only 35 percent of NYC's coronavirus cases gave info about close contacts in tracing program's initial stage

New York skyline.
(Image credit: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

New York City's new coronavirus contact tracing program has gotten off to a rough start, The New York Times reports, though experts remain optimistic it will improve over time.

The ambitious program, which employs 3,000 contact tracers, has yet to yield satisfying results as New York heads toward a new phase of reopening that includes outdoor dining, in-store shopping, and the resumption of office work. All told, the nation's largest city has come a long way since it was battered by the virus in the early days of the pandemic, but fresh challenges likely await, which is where the contact tracers come in.

In the program's first two weeks only 35 percent of New York's 5,347 residents who have tested or were presumed positive for COVID-19 gave any information about close contacts to tracers, which isn't great considering Perry Halkitis, the dean of Rutgers University's School of Public Health, said "you should be in touch with 75 percent" of each patient's contacts "within a day."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

In addition to the low response rate, the city is also refraining from using technology to track contacts, and privacy concerns have prevented officials from mandating extensive programs seen in other countries like China, South Korea, and Germany.

But Halkitis and others like Dr. Crystal Watson, a contact tracing expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, emphasized that an effort on this scale will take some time before rounding into shape. "I do think it is a beginning and it will build on itself," Watson said. Read more at The New York Times.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.