New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has enlisted billionaire Michael Bloomberg to spearhead a vast coronavirus testing and tracing effort that will help determine when the state can reopen for business.
The assignment marks a swift return to public life for Mr Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, a little more than a month after he ended a shortlived and expensive campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr Bloomberg will help the state design and build a contact tracing programme, intended to enable authorities to understand where and how the virus is spreading and take necessary countermeasures to contain it. Contact tracers locate people who have been infected and then track all others with whom they have had recent contact.
Robust contact tracing systems have helped Germany, Singapore and South Korea weather the pandemic with relatively fewer casualties and less economic disruption than other nations. Standing up a similar regime in New York and the surrounding states has been deemed critical by Mr Cuomo — as well as business leaders and public health officials — for the state to reopen its economy.
The governor wants an “army of tracers” in action within weeks — not months, he said.
“It’s a very big undertaking, and we thank him for taking it on,” Mr Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday, citing Mr Bloomberg’s experience not only as mayor but also running a vast media company with extensive operations in China, where coronavirus first emerged.
Mr Cuomo announced Mr Bloomberg’s role a day after a meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump, where the two discussed how New York and the federal government could collaborate on testing.
While the two New Yorkers have sparred throughout the pandemic, Mr Cuomo called the White House meeting “productive.” As evidence, he pointed to a $1.3bn commitment from the federal government to help his cash-strapped state with testing.
“These are people in the White House who, politically, don’t like me,” Mr Cuomo said. “You see the president’s tweets. He’s often tweeted very unkind things about me and my brother. But we sat with him and his team and that was put aside.”
In addition to funding, Mr Cuomo has also asked the White House to help untangle international supply chains for testing equipment, which has become scarce as states and foreign governments compete for stocks.
Mr Bloomberg, who spent roughly $1bn on his presidential campaign, will contribute about $10m to the tracing programme. He will also draw on support from the school of public health he endowed at Johns Hopkins University.
Throughout the pandemic, Mr Bloomberg has been convening weekly sessions for mayors with top public health experts. The idea is to provide a venue for local leaders to seek expert advice and share experiences. Such luminaries as former President Obama and Bill Gates have joined recent calls.
“We’re all eager to begin loosening restrictions on our daily lives and our economy. But in order to do that as safely as possible, we first have to put in place systems to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus and support them as they isolate,” Mr Bloomberg said.