NYC Blocks Coronavirus Contact Tracers From Asking About Protests

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s team of contact tracers monitoring the spread of the coronavirus around the city will not ask Covid-19-positive subjects whether they attended a protest.

“No person will be asked proactively if they attended a protest,” de Blasio spokeswoman Avery Cohen told THE CITY. “If a person wants to proactively offer that information, there is an opportunity for them to do so.”

De Blasio announced in late April that the city would hire 1,000 contact tracers to help track and fight the coronavirus. At a press conference, the mayor said he planned to build “a contact tracing network in this city like never been seen before, on a vast scale, so every time someone tests positive, immediately we can swing into action,” according to The Hill.

Contact tracers are responsible for interviewing people who test positive for the coronavirus and finding out how many others may have been exposed to disease, then follow up with the potentially exposed so they can self-isolate.

The New York City contact tracing team asks coronavirus-positive people about “close contacts,” defined as standing within six feet of someone, and if they live alone or with others. The tracers have been ordered not ask whether the person has recently attended a protest, however.

The directive comes as thousands of people have demonstrated through the city’s streets for George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody on Memorial Day. Other protests have been against de Blasio’s defenses of the New York City Police Department.

Columbia University health professor Dr. S. Patrick Kachur explained that asking people who have tested positive for the coronavirus whether they had attended a protest may put the person off from answering more questions during the interview. He also questioned the usefulness of knowing whether a person attended a protest or not.

“I think the logic has to do with the fact that contact tracing requires a strong level of trust between the interviewer and the person they’re talking to,” Kachur, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official, told THE CITY. “It’s really important to have a good rapport and treat people with ease. It’s important to not ask questions that will impede your ability to do the best job you can.”

“There’s definitely a concern that state and city officials have that the protests could be a place where transmission occurs, but that risk is lower than household and other community contacts,” he added. “And it would be really challenging to trace those contacts who you’ve been protesting with.”

Despite the ongoing threat from the pandemic, de Blasio has been accepting of the protests and praised his daughter after she was arrested during one. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also ignored the protest’s potential impacts on public health and has instead focused on New York residents violating social distancing rules at restaurants and bars.

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