The city’s coronavirus tracing program will start asking people if they’ve been at outdoor bars and restaurants to help understand the spike in cases among those between the ages of 20 and 29 — even though health officials never asked if people attended the George Floyd protests, The Post has learned.
“Patients are asked who they spent close time with socially. To ensure we’re adapting our program to New Yorkers’ changing routes, patients will explicitly be asked if they spent time with their close contact at a bar or restaurant as the city continues to reopen,” said City Hall spokeswoman Avery Cohen said, while reaffirming they won’t be asked about demonstrations.
“People are asked to name any gatherings they have attended to help identify cases related to specific events,” Cohen said. “Regarding bars and restaurants, we’re adapting the program to match the increased mobility of New Yorkers, especially those in the younger age brackets.”
The city’s Dept. of Health found that the proportion of 20-somethings diagnosed with COVID-19 doubled during the second half of June. The new cases were less likely to live in the Bronx and more likely to reside in wealthier neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan including the Financial District and Greenwich Village, according to lab reports.
“We didn’t see an uptick from the protests. They reached their peak over a month ago at this point,” Cohen said when asked why the tracing corps wasn’t tracking protest attendance.
Earlier in the week Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser for public health, said, “There’s nothing that we can see that directly links the protests to the rise that we’re seeing right now among younger people.”
But, he admitted, “There’s a lot we don’t know.”
Dr. S. Patrick Kachur, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, defended the city’s position about leaving demonstrations out of tracing questions.
“Asking about protests might alienate some people — and it might not generate that much useful information.
“What would you do if knew someone was standing out in the Barclay’s Center for hours? Would you ask literally everybody to come in? So, they took some reasonable steps – trying to ascertain this information could compromise our ability to establish the trust that we need,” Kachur explained.
But a former associate commissioner for the federal Food and Drug Administration slammed the approach.
“When President Trump says if we stop testing we’ll have fewer cases, the Mayor calls out the hypocrisy,” Peter Pitts said.
“When we can’t explain the uptick in our fair city’s COVID-19 infection rates among the 20-29 age group — and we aren’t asking if they’ve attended a Black Lives Matter protest, that’s called hypocrisy too. Wake up, Your honor. Closing your eyes and covering your ears won’t change the facts,” Pitts said.
Dr. Jake Deutsch, co-founder of Cure Urgent Care that’s tested over 5,000 patients for COVID-19, agreed that the tracing corps should ask about protests.
“The purpose of contact tracing is you’re trying to identify sources of where the infections are occurring, so I think you ask about gatherings whether it’s bars, protests, schools, churches. The question shouldn’t just stop with, ‘Were you in a restaurant?’ You’d have to be much inclusive. And trying to predict that [bars are] the source of the problem I think that’s a pretty impossible presumption given the fact that it’s a highly contagious virus,” Deutsch said.
He believes the higher proportion of twenty-somethings testing positive for COVID-19 is due to increased testing for all New Yorkers — not just the elderly and vulnerable.
“I’ve seen more young people be tested than we’d seen for months ago for instance so I think you’re going to see a spike when you see more testing,” Deutsch said.