NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)Contact tracing is a key to reopening, and New York City needs to hire an army of workers before it can reopen.

On Monday, CBS2’s Ali Bauman spoke with one applicant about what it takes to do the job.

“You, too, can be a tracer. It’s a great second job,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

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Cuomo’s parting joke to reporters earlier in the day was hardly in jest. New York will need 17,000 contact tracers in the coming months — investigators who track down anyone who’s recently had close contact with a coronavirus patient.

“It is up to us, the contact tracers, to be able to convince them in some way to either isolate or seek medical attention,” contact tracing applicant Elliot Schwartz said.

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Schwartz is a retired bronx EMT. He just passed Johns Hopkins’ free online course with flying colors and is now one of 40,000 New Yorkers who’ve submitted an application.

“What they’re asking you to do is to be an on-the-spot problem solver,” Schwartz said.

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It’s not just friends and family. Tracers have to track down every delivery worker, cashier, or coworker a patient has had contact with in the last two weeks.

“Just keep jogging the memory. What did you do next? Did you see anybody?” Schwartz said, describing the job. “We would call the food company and ask them if they know the driver that came to your address at such and such time and possibly have him quarantined.”

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text COVID to 692692 | NJ COVID-19 Info Hub | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Robert Amler is a doctor and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief medical officer. He said tracers often have a background in science, but the job is much more of an art.

“To interview people in a relaxed, trustworthy kind of setting, establish trust, and try to get an honest conversation,” Dr. Amler said.

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These days, as most people sit at home, we’re all rightfully wary of cold calls. Amler said if a tracer calls you, its OK to ask for a callback number to verify.

“Make sure that the people answering the phone are in fact from the health department or another proper authority,” Amler said.

In order to reopen, a region needs at least 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents. New York City aims to have 2,500 tracers working by next month.

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