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New York City Council Hearing: NYC’s Plan for COVID-19 Testing and Contact Tracing

Mitchell Katz, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer
Friday, May 15, 2020

Good Morning Speaker Johnson, Chairwoman Rivera, Chairman Levine, members of the Committee on Hospitals, and Committee on Health. I am Dr. Mitch Katz, President & CEO of the NYC Health + Hospitals (Health + Hospitals). Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you on NYC’s Plan for COVID-19 Testing and Contact Tracing. I’m joined by the leaders of the Test and Trace Corp, our dedicated, multi-disciplinary team that will effectuate testing and tracing on an unprecedented level. Dr. Ted Long is the Executive Director of the Test and Trace Corp; Jackie Bray is the Deputy Executive Director; Dr. Andrew Wallach is the Chief Medical Officer; Dr. Jay Varma is the Mayor’s Senior Advisor for Public Health; and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis is Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control. Although not present for today’s hearing, Dr. Neil Vora, recently joined the team as the Director of Tracing; and Dr. Amanda Johnson, is Director of Isolation.

This esteemed group represents some of the best and the brightest across Health + Hospitals, the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), and the Mayor’s Office, working together towards our common goal of suppressing COVID-19. I want to begin today with a thank you to the men and women from Health + Hospitals and DOHMH. They didn’t ask for this crisis. But their work on the front lines in our hospitals and clinics these past two months saved the lives of countless New Yorkers.

As you know, last Friday the Mayor announced the creation of the Test and Trace Corps, which will lead a comprehensive plan to test, trace, and take care of every case of COVID-19. All three programs are now under a unified operational structure, leveraging Health + Hospitals high-level testing and treating organizational expertise and the world-class contact tracing expertise of the DOHMH. These three programs work best together under one umbrella organization. With more testing, we have more opportunity to identify contacts, when we identify contacts, we need places for them to go and be isolated and provided with medical care. It must all work together to succeed.

Health + Hospitals has been the leader in COVID-19 testing and building out the City’s testing capacity. We have also stood up a hotel program with a comprehensive clinical model to appropriately isolate individuals diagnosed with COVID-19. This is a huge operational wheel to manage and higher up 1,000 people in a very short time. I’m proud that Health + Hospitals has the infrastructure to rapidly hire, while benefiting from the expertise of DOHMH.

This work is an essential precursor to fully and safely re-opening New York City. Health + Hospitals will build on our core strength of operationalizing patient testing and care in an accessible, efficient, culturally sensitive way, and we will continue to partner with DOHMH to integrate their renowned expertise in contact tracing. This is a massive and complex endeavor, which requires a single, unified command, and all components fully integrated both technically and administratively. In addition, Health + Hospitals will utilize its nimbleness as a public benefit corporation, to hire and scale up quickly. We are a vast and well managed health care delivery system that serves every community, every kind of New Yorker. People trust us with their health, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay. We have some of the finest doctors and nurses in the world. And we are ready for this challenge.

We’ve already been at this work for weeks. Health + Hospitals has stood up 23 community testing sites at our community health centers and our acute care facilities, and will expand by another 12 sites by mid-May. Our goal is to expand from almost 14,000 tests per day now to 50,000 tests per day by August. By expanding our testing capacity, we will be able to identify those who test positive, trace all their close contacts as part of an integrated program. To do so effectively and equitably, we will be focusing on communities across the five boroughs, operating outside of traditional clinic and hospital settings to make care as accessible and community-focused as possible. This will include leveraging existing City infrastructure and properties. Partnering with community clinics, the City will support providers who serve in the hardest-hit neighborhoods to expand testing capacity.

The Test and Trace Corps is currently recruiting, training, and hiring 1,000 contact tracers to investigate cases, trace and monitor contacts, and manage all case data and inquiries by June 1. To date, we have received approximately 10,000 applications, and are encouraging more as we will need 5,000 or more people once we are fully operational. DOHMH will transfer 40 of its experienced contact tracers to Health + Hospitals, and will supervise, train, and ensure the quality of the work by our incoming contact tracers. This program will allow the City to immediately identify, isolate and care for those who test positive for the virus, and then rapidly track, assess, and quarantine people they may have infected.

The Test and Trace Corps will also work with each person who has COVID-19 to connect them immediately to care and help them safely isolate at home, a hotel, or a hospital and ensure their close contacts are rapidly traced, assessed, and quarantined at home or a hotel, as necessary. Health + Hospitals already has a hotel program in place for New Yorkers requiring quarantine or isolation for up to 14 days, where they have transportation to and from the hotels, they receive meals, wellness checks, support services, health home coordination, and home care. We will work with the City to expand the current capacity to 1,200 hotel rooms by June. If more isolation rooms are needed, we can quickly build out that number. At the hotels, meals, clean clothes, and medication refills for anyone who is isolated and quarantined who may require assistance will be provided. New Yorkers with COVID-19 will be connected to a comprehensive range of support services such as grocery delivery to help them isolate at home. Using tele-medicine, the Health + Hospitals will perform remote medical checks on those in isolation and quarantine and evaluate individuals with symptoms to determine whether they should receive care at a hospital or not.

Thank you for your time this morning, and I will answer any questions you may have.