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County orders more at-home test kits, limits contact tracing

Boxes of rapid COVID tests.
Boxes of rapid COVID tests.

Monroe County reported 2,448 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 862 of those cases being at-home test results that were reported to the health department.

County Executive Adam Bello said the spike in cases within the last month is largely driven by these at-home testing — proof, he said, that flooding the community with rapid test kits is effective.

“These tests were meant to help curb the spread by alerting people if they were COVID-positive, and the tests have done just that,” Bello said.

He added that thousands of people who are contagious can now isolate and quarantine instead of infecting others.

The county has ordered 1 million more test kits to be distributed early next week. Bello said the distribution will be similar to the first one, with some adjustments. He said the goal is to hand out as many test kits as possible, which includes increasing distribution points.

“With having a million test kits, we're able to even expand the number of partners that we can utilize to help distribute these,” he said.

Bello said the kits should be used before attending gatherings, or if you’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

The county is also relying on residents to help slow the spread of the omicron variant by monitoring exposure.

Public health commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said the county will no longer do extensive COVID-19 contact tracing. He said his team will only trace for the more vulnerable residents, such as those living in nursing homes and other assisted living facilities.

“These are places where residents might not be capable of conducting their own contact tracing,” Mendoza said. “The vast majority of our community, most of us are capable, and I truly believe that most of us want to do the right thing.”

This decision comes a few days after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the state will no longer do contact tracing due to the high transmission rate of the new variant.

She said previous tracing methods are no longer effective, and she advised local health departments to focus on getting more residents vaccinated.

Mendoza said the county will continue to support schools, colleges and others that need assistance when they have outbreaks or other concerns.

“The end of contact tracing is not a signal that the pandemic is about to end, but I am hopeful that it means we are one step closer,” he said.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.