NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Kathy Hochul hosted a coronavirus briefing Tuesday morning to update New Yorkers on the pandemic, including a major change to the state’s contact tracing policy.
Joining the governor for Tuesday’s briefing was New York State Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, who announced a change in the state’s contact tracing protocol.
According to the health commissioner, the big change is that if New Yorkers test positive for COVID-19, they should no longer wait for a call from the state health department.
Dr. Bassett says the volume of new cases statewide has put a strain on local health department resources that can be better utilized elsewhere. She said the state will instead launch a website with testing form submissions so people can have the necessary paperwork for the employers should they test positive.
“The fact is we are changing the approach to contact tracing because of the winter surge,” Dr. Bassett said. “This is about flexibility. We are moving to more self-management and our guidance remains in line with the CDC. This will help local governments make a big difference in vaccination and testing.”
“We are going to be allowing counties to decide if they want to contact trace,” Gov. Hochul said. “This is not a requirement anymore. Everyone knows someone who has had it. It spreads quickly and it doesn’t make sense to have counties keep up with who gets tested for positive when they could be focusing on vaccinations instead.”
While the state will no longer require contact tracing, both the governor and the health commissioner said local county and health departments can still keep contact tracing programs in place should they choose to do so.
The governor said statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations are still on the rise, with 12,540 New Yorkers in the hospital with the virus Monday. The governor also reported 160 new COVID-19 deaths in New York. Although the number of hospitalizations continue to trend upward, the governor said that rate is beginning to decelerate.
“The rate of increase is slowing,” Gov. Hochul said. “Hospitalizations continue to grow, but the rate of increase is slowing and that is very encouraging. It’s a constant reminder; hospitalizations are a serious and high number. We want to make sure people see this trend for COVID-19 patients hospitalized get under 10,000 and lessen the stress on hospitals.
The governor said three New York regions — Finger Lakes, Central New York and Mohawk Valley — currently have hospital capacity issues. She said non-essential elective medical procedures in these three regions will be limited for the next two weeks, and the state will reassess the hospital capacity status within these regions after 14 days.
“This will only be for two weeks,” Gov. Hochul said. “I want everything to be short term so it can be flexible. I don’t want our hospitals to get overwhelmed.”
The governor said COVID-19 hospitalizations, consistent throughout the pandemic, have been a lagging indicator and a result of the spike in new cases over the past few weeks.
She said that the state’s new case rates and positivity rates have started to plateau, and even decrease in some regions, for the first time in weeks.
According to the governor, New York City’s case and positivity rates were the first in the state to show signs of a slight decline, and she added that Upstate region trajectories were approximately two weeks behind New York City’s.
“It’s actually going downward,” Gov Hochul said. “Every case is one too many, but fi you watch the trend line, it looks like we may be cresting over that peak. We are not at the end, but this is a glimmer of hope when we desperately need that.”
The governor said that New York set a single-day record on January 7 with 425,782 COVID-19 tests reported, adding that those were strictly lab-tested samples and did not include at-home test results.
“This is only a snapshot, which is incredible,” Gov. Hochul said. “We are very proud of this.”
When asked about the February 2 deadline for the state’s mask or vax mandate, the governor said it was too soon to say if that would be extended.
“We are getting through this,” Gov. Hochul said. “I am looking forward to rolling back on mandates. Since day one, I have been working protecting the health of our state and our economy. When people look back at this period they will see we’ve had no shutdowns.
“People need to know there is an end in sight,” Gov. Hochul added. “Having vaccination and mask requirements allowed us to keep businesses open. There is no textbook written on how to deal with a pandemic. We are looking forward to seeing this trend go down.”
Full Press Conference:
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.