NYC Mayor Told COVID-19 Tracers Not To Ask If Those Who Test Positive Attended Protests

OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is continuing to keep some restaurants, entertainment facilities, and religious institutions closed amid the coronavirus pandemic but has allowed thousands of people to march, arm-in-arm through the streets of his city without issue.

What gives?

If he’s worried about coronavirus infections spreading, then one could reason social distancing guidelines should apply to everyone.

One could also reason he’d be looking to collect as much accurate information as possible when it comes to the coronavirus and how people are getting infected.

This is not the case, however, as The City reports the mayor has specifically told coronavirus tracers not to ask those people who test positive if they participated in a protest.

From the report:

The hundreds of contact tracing workers hired by the city under de Blasio’s new “test and trace” campaign have been instructed not to ask anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 whether they recently attended a demonstration, City Hall confirmed to THE CITY.

“No person will be asked proactively if they attended a protest,” Avery Cohen, a spokesperson for de Blasio, wrote in an emailed response to questions by THE CITY.

Instead, test-and-trace workers ask COVID-positive individuals general questions to help them “recall ‘contacts’ and individuals they may have exposed,” Cohen said. Among the initial questions: “Do you live with anyone in your home?”

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The spokesperson said the tracers’ hands are tied on requesting the information, but those who test positive for the coronavirus can volunteer it.

“If a person wants to proactively offer that information, there is an opportunity for them to do so,” Cohen said.

According to the report, the idea not to ask people if they attended a protest comes down to a trust issue between the interviewer and interviewee for honest and accurate answers:

Dr. S. Patrick Kachur, a professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and a former official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said contact trackers face a balancing act: trying to obtain useful information about an infected person’s contacts without alienating them with overly intrusive questions.

Asking someone if they’d been at a protest could wind up discouraging them from being candid in their answers, he noted.

“I think the logic has to do with the fact that contact tracing requires a strong level of trust between the interviewer and the person they’re talking to,” he said. “It’s really important to have a good rapport and treat people with ease. It’s important to not ask questions that will impede your ability to do the best job you can.”