NEW YORK – Billionaire Michael Bloomberg will help the state of New York design and fund a program to trace coronavirus infections as part of its strategy to contain the spread of the virus.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative Wednesday, saying it would be done in unison with the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut, and would launch in weeks.
“Mayor Bloomberg will design the program, design the training, he is going to make a financial contribution also,” Cuomo said of Bloomberg, who was the city’s mayor from 2002 to 2013. “He’s going to put together an organization that can help hire the people.”
Other partners include Johns Hopkins University and global health organization Vital Strategies.
Bloomberg, who spent over a billion dollars of his own fortune earlier this year on a failed bid to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, is a well-known philanthropist. He has given away over $8 billion of his wealth to fund causes including climate action and gun control.
The governor’s office said Bloomberg is making an investment of “upwards of $10 million” in the coronavirus tracing initiative. There is an additional $1.3 billion in federal funds available to New York for tracing.
“He has tremendous insight both governmentally and from a private sector business perspective on this,” Cuomo said, pointing to Bloomberg’s offices in China and Europe having gone through coronavirus-related shutdowns and reopenings.
New York state has confirmed more than a quarter million COVID-19 infections. More than 15,000 people have died, but the governor said Wednesday that deaths have stopped rising and are on a “gentle decline.”
Cuomo said that the state’s effort to double its testing capacity from 20,000 to 40,000 tests per day, plus the launch of a massive tracing operation, will help New York move into the low-level transmission phase and ultimately, be a key part of how it reopens its economy.
Bloomberg plans to start with the state’s current corps of about 225 tracers and build it into the thousands. Cuomo said that the state and New York City’s public universities have about 35,000 medical students who will be an important resource for recruiting tracers.
“We are going to have to hire many, many more tracers — the capacity is going to have to expand,” Cuomo said. He said the concentration of tracers would be in proportion to where infection rates are.
Currently, the northern part of the state has only about 7% of the total infections, while New York City and its immediate suburbs account for 93%.