Erie County seeks to participate in state's contact tracing program

Apr 23, 2020

The Erie County Health Department wants to know more about the major contract tracing initiative for positive cases of COVID-19 that was announced Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the New York City and tri-state area. 

Cuomo is partnering with neighboring governors and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg to put together a “tracing army,” including SUNY and CUNY medical students. 

"We don't have any details on that yet, but Dr. Burstein has various phone calls in to New York State DOH any information on how we can participate in that system to hopefully expand our manpower and if they have some unique tools or technology that we don't have access to," said Ben Swanekamp, Erie County’s deputy budget director and former health policy director.

Speaking during a virtual committee meeting Thursday of the Erie County Legislature, Swanekamp said Erie County currently has a team of 55 contact tracers at work. The county is also ramping up testing for close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases, even if the contacts are asymptomatic.

Swanekamp stood in for Health Commissioner Gale Burstein at the meeting because there was a COVID-19-related death in her family.

The county is also purchasing equipment for antibody testing, which will help determine how widespread the virus is and when to reopen businesses. Swanekamp says the county will be able to process about 800 tests per day once two new machines are up and running.

"As of today, anyone in Erie County who is symptomatic, with or without a prescription, can get a COVID-19 test, usually by the next day. That's a substantial change. We've been able to keep growing that category," he said.

While Swanekamp says social distancing has helped flatten the curve of new infections to below the county’s hospital capacity, a University at Buffalo model doesn’t predict the local curve to peak until mid-to-late July.