ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — As of this week, New York will no longer expect local health departments to conduct COVID contact tracing for most cases. New Yorkers who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer receive a call from a county or even the state health department. They will have to self-quarantine and let people who they have come in contact with know personally that they have contracted the virus.

Don Lehman, director of public affairs for Warren County, says contact tracing put an incredible burden on the county health department. “New York State reached out to the counties to let them know that they have understood the county health departments have been carrying this weight for 22 months now and it’s, they’ve multiple retirements…It’s just a staggering work load.”

Prior to the pandemic, local health departments like the one in Warren County offered numerous services, but COVID essentially stole the show.  “What’s fallen by the wayside,” Lehman says, “is these public health departments have full workloads of rabies clinics and STD clinics and Flu clinics and all these things that still had to keep going which is a full time workload in its own right.”  

Now, the hope is local health departments can focus on other services. In late December, both Schenectady and Saratoga counties decided to scale back their contact tracing programs. As far as contact tracers go, many were hired on a ‘need be’ basis.

According to a statement from Albany County, “we hired a few per diem people for contact tracing and they have been reassigned to help with the call center and other COVID related efforts. Those per diems were hired under a grant and were never meant to be permanent employees.” 

On Tuesday, the New York State Health Department announced it will launch a new website next week with information regarding contact tracing. Governor Hochul also announced local health departments may continue to make calls, but the state no longer is requiring them to do so.