ALBANY — New guidance from the state of New York makes it clear that individuals are now largely in charge of their own COVID-19 quarantines and contact tracing.
And it appears the approach will rely largely on the honor system.
Schools, for example, are not required to perform contact tracing when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID, although they can do so if they want, according to the new guidance, which is now available on the state Department of Health website.
The guidance doesn’t mention a requirement for employers, either.
The new guidance states New Yorkers who test positive for COVID may still get a call from a public health worker to interview them about places they’ve been or people they’ve seen, but officials have also said individuals shouldn’t expect a call. People who test positive should call their close contacts themselves and refer them to health department guidance on whether they are required to quarantine.
Mostly, the guidance lays out what individuals “should” do or “may” do, if they want.
For example, a document aimed at schools states that if districts know about a close contact between a student and someone who tests positive, they “should” inform the child’s parents.
A similar document for employers says employees “may” notify their workplaces if they test positive.
Some rules are more concrete.
The guidance clearly states that masks are required in schools, for example.
It also says anyone who tests positive for COVID must isolate themselves while they recover.
That isolation lasts at least five days, but could go on longer depending on symptoms.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that the state would curtail its contact tracing efforts amid the latest surge of COVID cases in the state. Local health departments will also no longer be required to perform contact tracing, although they can continue to do so if they choose.
The tactic had been in place since the early days of the pandemic. It involves interviewing those who test positive about people they were in close contact with and then calling those individuals as well and ordering them into quarantine.
If done in a timely fashion, the technique can help limit spread of an infectious disease.
But with a steady stream of record levels of new COVID cases in New York, it’s almost impossible to keep up, Hochul said. State and local health department resources, she added, will be better spent on testing and vaccinations.
A few other takeaways from the new state guidance:
Individuals aren’t required to report the results of at-home COVID tests to their local health departments. The state said many departments aren’t collecting results of at-home tests, although Onondaga County is doing so through an online portal.
Students who are vaccinated and eligible for boosters, but who haven’t received a booster yet, can’t participate in extracurricular activities at school if they’re exposed to someone with COVID.
They must quarantine at home for five days, although they can still attend school for classes. The rule doesn’t apply to 5- to 11-year-olds since they’re not yet eligible for boosters.
The guidance includes forms New Yorkers can fill out to certify they’ve completed required isolation or quarantine periods.
Onondaga County is also ending its contact tracing efforts. County Executive Ryan Mahon and Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta said earlier this week that the burden now rests with individuals and employers.
The county has its own guidance available online with details on isolation and quarantine procedures.