News & Politics

De Blasio Orders Contact Tracers Not to Ask if COVID-Positive People Went to Protests

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at the USTA Indoor Training Center where a temporary hospital will be built, Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-N.Y.C.) has hired hundreds of contact-tracing workers to determine how the coronavirus has spread across the metro area. He pledged to hire about 1,000 of them. Yet these contact tracers have been ordered not to ask people who test positive for coronavirus whether or not they recently attended a protest over the death of George Floyd.

“No person will be asked proactively if they attended a protest,” de Blasio spokesperson Avery Cohen told THE CITY. “Contact tracing workers have been instructed to only ask COVID-positive individuals general questions to help them “recall ‘contacts’ and individuals they may have exposed,” Cohen explained.

De Blasio has ordered them to ask questions such as “Do you live with anyone in your home?” They then proceed to ask about “close contacts,” times when the person has been within six feet of another person for at least 10 minutes.

If a COVID-positive person may have exposed others at a protest, he or she must volunteer that information. “If a person wants to proactively offer that information, there is an opportunity for them to do so,” Cohen wrote.

Cohen said most — but not all — people questioned by contact tracers have cooperated, while some have refused to volunteer information about close contacts. “Naturally, we have not been able to obtain all information from all positive cases, but engagement among those reached is high.”

In the past two weeks, thousands of protesters have congregated in New York City to protest the horrific police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. Some of these protests broke out into riots which may cost New York businesses “tens of millions.” Thousands gathered on Sunday for a “Black Trans Lives Matter” protest in Brooklyn.

As rioters ran rampant in New York City, local police booted Jewish families from a playground for violating social distancing regulations.

Ironically, both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) have insisted that they want to know whether or not the protests are spreading coronavirus. Yet de Blasio’s orders to contact tracers seem to disprove his alleged concern about the protests contributing to the spread.

In a truly Orwellian statement, public health officials defended the protests and riots, claiming that “white supremacy” is a “lethal public health issue.” While they acknowledged that staying at home and social distancing help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, they said they “do not condemn [protests and riots] as risky for COVID-19 transmission.”

Yet as PJ Media’s Stephen Green reported, an Axios poll revealed that, by a massive 6.5-to-1 margin, Americans believe there is a moderate-to-large risk of coronavirus infection from “going to protests, demonstrations.” While Americans also believe that returning to work, dining in at restaurants, and shopping in retail stores carry some risk for coronavirus spread, they expressed a much larger fear about protests spreading the disease.

COVID-19 Risk Perceptions

(Chart courtesy of Axios.)

Dr. Deborah Birx also echoed those fears, noting that protesters’ yelling could potentially negate the health benefits of wearing a mask, and arguing that the protesters’ wanton destruction of coronavirus testing sites would set back efforts to contain the virus. (Who would have thought?) Birx reported that no fewer than seventy such sites had been destroyed.

It appears de Blasio may share the cognitive dissonance of the public health officials more than the common sense of Americans on this issue. If contact tracing is to succeed, and if Americans are to understand just how much protests enable the spread of COVID-19, COVID-positive people must be asked about their attendance at protests and riots. Yet it seems the very New York government punishing Jewish families for taking kids to a playground wishes to turn a blind eye to the thousands of protesters who are doing the exact opposite of social distancing.

New Yorkers who lost their jobs or their businesses in the coronavirus lockdowns and the riots should be utterly furious.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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