New York City contact tracers, those who are tasked with tracing and monitoring the contacts of those who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, are not asking infected individuals if they have recently participated in large-scale protests, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) office.
The state’s contact-tracing program is designed to “slow the spread of COVID-19 and make it safer to begin to return to normal again” and has been touted by leaders across the state. However, after months of warnings detailing the risks of attending gatherings — both large and small — contact tracers are being instructed to refrain from asking individuals if they recently attended protests, some of which have drawn thousands.
“No person will be asked proactively if they attended a protest,” Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for de Blasio, told THE CITY in an email.
THE CITY reported:
Instead, test-and-trace workers ask COVID-positive individuals general questions to help them “recall ‘contacts’ and individuals they may have exposed,” Cohen said. Among the initial questions: “Do you live with anyone in your home?”
Tracers then ask about “close contacts” — defined as being within six feet of another person for at least 10 minutes.
It’s up to tested individuals to volunteer whether any of those close contacts occurred during protests. “If a person wants to proactively offer that information, there is an opportunity for them to do so,” Cohen wrote.
Failing to ask infected individuals if they recently attended protests could hide the impact the widespread gatherings are having on the spread of the virus. Several progressive politicians — from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to Hillary Clinton — have praised the efforts of the protesters, while others — like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) — have ditched all previous warnings and gathered to be among the demonstrators themselves.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has indicated that officials are “not sure” of the role protests are playing in the spread of the virus, but it appears to be a question that will remain outstanding, at least in New York City, where contact tracers are instructed to avoid asking the question, leaving the divulgement of such information to the individual.
Jonah Bruno, spokesperson for the state’s health department, provided a relatively vague statement, explaining that the department is working with the city “to balance the public health priority while also protecting personal privacy, as we seek to ensure a thorough contact tracing program that helps us contain the COVID-19 virus and monitor any fluctuations in the infection rate as we continue reopening New York.”
The news coincides with another massive gathering, as thousands gathered in Brooklyn Museum plaza on Sunday for a “black trans lives” demonstration:
— NYC Protest Updates 2020 (@protest_nyc) June 14, 2020
Huge crowd gathering for today’s action for Black trans lives in front of the Brooklyn Museum pic.twitter.com/m779by6tbL
— Shannon Keating (@skeatings) June 14, 2020
Today’s #BlackTransLivesMatter protest in Brooklyn.
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) June 14, 2020
— Murad Awawdeh (@HeyItsMurad) June 14, 2020