NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – This isn’t really anything new for Donald Shawver. The Supervising Public Health Nurse for the Niagara County Department of Health has been doing contact tracing for many years. But nothing like this.
“The tracing isn’t new for us. The disease is, and the volume of tracing that we’re doing is definitely different than we’re used to,” Shawver said.
“The science is new on this,” he added.
With a history of performing contact tracing for other communicable diseases and sexually transmitted infections, performing COVID-19 contact tracing work presents new challenges for Shawver and his team of 14 for just that reason.
When they learn of a COVID-positive case, it’s their responsibility to find out who had face-to-face contact with that individual: in other words, anyone who was less than six feet away from them for more than 10 minutes. Even if they are not showing symptoms of coronavirus, any of those contacts are told to quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms.
“Most people, they’re fine with everything. They follow the rules. They’re more than happy to have us help them,” Shawver said.
Having an adequate number of contact tracers is a requirement toward regional re-opening in New York State. Each region is required to have 30 tracers per 100,000 residents, or more depending on the coronavirus infection rate. Western New York required at least 521 of them before re-opening.
On Monday, Governor Cuomo said the region had 525 of them. Shawver is part of that group.
To build up the number of contact tracers across the state, the New York State Department of Health has teamed up with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“Bloomberg Philanthropies will help DOH to actively identify and recruit potential contact tracers for the program,” the department said through a statement.
The state is also allowing people to apply to be contact tracers through the Department of Health website. State health officials say they have received more than 40,000 applications, and more than 500 offers have been initiated.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.