New York to launch tri-state virus tracing program with Michael Bloomberg's help

(Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he would work with neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey on a joint program to trace the contacts of people exposed to the coronavirus outbreak to try to prevent further spread.

The ambitious effort to investigate cases in the state at the epicenter of the U.S. crisis will be led by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and former presidential candidate, Cuomo told a daily briefing.

Many residents of Connecticut and New Jersey commute to jobs in nearby New York City, increasing their risk of contagion. Bloomberg would make a financial contribution of “upward of $10 million,” Cuomo’s aide Melissa DeRosa said.

With coronavirus-related hospitalizations trending lower in New York, Cuomo has in the last few days turned his attention to the challenge of widespread testing and tracing, both of which he has said are key to getting New Yorkers back to work.

Cuomo said the three states have been working as part of a larger regional coalition to coordinate reopening their economies.

“It’s best to do this tracing on a tri-state area. Why? Because that’s how our society works, the virus doesn’t stop at jurisdictional boundaries,” Cuomo said, requiring an “army” of thousands of people for the initiative.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy said the state’s number of new hospitalizations dropped on Tuesday, falling by about half from a day earlier to 361. He cited as more encouraging signs the stable overall number of patients in critical or intensive care and the number of ventilators in use.

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However, Murphy cautioned, “We’re not even close to even considering claiming victory.”

Cuomo said hospitalizations for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, fell below 16,000 on Tuesday, declining for the ninth straight day. Intubations also continued falling, while the state had 474 additional deaths on Tuesday, Cuomo said, the lowest daily total since April 1.

Cuomo said now was not the time to be “reckless” and reopen his state too quickly, warning that a significant increase in contacts between people would lead to a rise in hospitalizations in a matter of days.

“We are in a relatively good place in downstate New York,” Cuomo said at his daily news briefing about the hardest-hit area which includes New York City. “The curve is on descent, the question is now how long is that descent.”

reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller