Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to help lead a massive regional effort to test and trace the contacts of people infected with the coronavirus in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
"I thank him for taking this on with us," Cuomo said in a tweet of the former New York City mayor and recent Democratic presidential contender. "It will be expensive, challenging & require an army of tracers. But it must be done."
Tracing the contacts of people found to be infected with the coronavirus virus is a public health strategy that's been widely credited for limiting its spread in South Korea.
The plan announced by Cuomo on Wednesday will be done across city, county and state lines around New York.
"Michael Bloomberg will design the program, design the training. He’s going to make a financial contribution also and put together an organization that can help hire the people," Cuomo said.
"You have weeks to have this up and running, (it’s a) super-ambitious undertaking. And Mayor Bloomberg will help coordinate the entire effort," Cuomo said. "He’ll be working with the state, I’m working with the city and Nassau and Suffolk (Counties) and Jersey and Connecticut."
The region, hardest hit by the pandemic in the U.S., has no choice but to try following those who test positive, Cuomo said.
"This entire operation has never been done before, so it's intimidating. You've never heard the words testing, tracing, isolate before," Cuomo said. "But I say, 'So what? Who cares that you've never done it?' That's really irrelevant. It's what we have to do now."
A handful of protests, which appear to have the endorsement of President Donald Trump, have popped up around the nation, with activists venting about the economic fallout connected to shelter-in-place orders in various states.
Bloomberg said he's sympathetic to calls for economic re-launch, but insisted testing and tracing is the only way it can happen.
“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,” Bloomberg said in a statement.
Testing and tracing "will help us drive the virus into a corner — saving lives and allowing more people to begin getting back to work.”
The governor acknowledged that it's an "impossible task" to trace the contacts of every single coronavirus-infected person in the three states.
"You will trace as many positives as you can, and as the testing number goes up, that number of possible people to be traced is going up," he said. "That's why it's an extraordinarily impossible task, and you do the best you can."
Bloomberg, who served three terms as New York City mayor and had a short run as a candidate in the Democratic Party primaries, is one of America's richest men, worth about $53.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
The former mayor is expected to spend at least $10 million on the effort, a top aide to Cuomo said Wednesday.
On the campaign trail in February, Bloomberg spoke about the need to take coronavirus seriously, hitting President Trump’s lack of action.
Earlier this year, Bloomberg's philanthropic operation announced a $40 million pledge to support efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 in low- and middle-income nations.