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Onondaga County ends contact tracing, expects schools and businesses to take over

WRVO News file photo

Contact tracing has been one of the methods for government to control the COVID-19 pandemic from the very beginning. And now it’s on the way out. Because of a massive spike in cases from the omicron variant, New York state will no longer require local health departments to conduct the time-consuming tracking of individuals of those who test positive for COVID.

Onondaga County Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta said the move simply means people who have been exposed to the virus shouldn’t expect a call from the health department.

“Engaging with the cases and contacts by the health department, or the New York State staff which was pretty much supporting us last year, is going to go away," said Gupta.

Instead, Gupta says the impetus to track cases will fall on local businesses, organizations, schools, and individuals. While a school may track all close contacts in that school if someone tests positive, it’s then up to the individual to quarantine and alert any other close contacts of their status.

“Whether it’s Wegmans, whether it’s health systems, whether it’s manufacturing, they are expected to do their own contact tracing,” she said. “But they are not expected to get a call. So parents are not going to get a call from contact tracer and give you a quarantine or isolation order.”

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said most local businesses are already self-reporting.

A flowchart from Onondaga County is intended to guide people on the next steps after being exposed to COVID-19
Onondaga County Health Department
A flowchart from Onondaga County is intended to guide people on the next steps after being exposed to COVID-19

“Because that’s how they stay open,” said McMahon. “They have a case, they immediately want to identify any risk in their workforce because they want to stay open. So basically we are formalizing something that’s already happening."

Gupta said the health department will still support any businesses or organizations that need it, and the county’s website has been updated with all the latest information on quarantine, and notification timeframes. Gupta said the county’s job now is guiding the public through this stage of the pandemic.

“We really need to make sure we engage people in a way so they can be the driver, and we can be the navigator,” she said.

State health officials say the recent spike in cases, and the omicron variant's shorter incubation period, has diminished the impact of traditional contact tracing methods, and say counties can focus more now on vaccinations and testing.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.