with CLIPREVIEWED learn the articleIs Contact Tracing Doomed in the US?
Healthcare workers and state and local governments are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen a resurgence around the globe as we head into the winter months. But as the CDC notes, contact tracing is key to slowing the disease’s spread. Can Americans look past a distrust of big tech and the government to make contact tracing in the US effective?
Public perception is a major hurdle. A June survey from Avira found that 71 percent of Americans had no plans to download contact-tracing apps. “Of those who said they would not use the apps, the main reason was concerns that the technology won’t protect people’s digital privacy,” the company found.
More people distrust the government than big tech, however—”32% said they would trust technology by Google/Apple to keep their data secure and private. Just 14% said the same for contact tracing apps provided directly from the government,” according to Avira.
At the moment, government health agencies are working together with technology companies. Google and Apple updated their mobile operating systems earlier this year to support contact-tracing apps from a user’s local health authority. Those who opt in will receive push alerts if they come into contact with anyone who is later diagnosed with COVID-19, but details are anonymized, and the onus is on the patient to self-report their coronavirus diagnosis. Data is stored on the device itself, not on Google or Apple servers, and people can opt out at any time.
To get things fully under control, we’ll need contact-tracing participation rates up to 80 percent, according to data from Oxford University. While every little bit helps, stopping COVID-19 in its tracks will require more than uptake at the margins.
“For example, we estimate that in Washington state, a well-staffed manual contact tracing workforce combined with 15% uptake of an exposure notification system could reduce infections by 15% and deaths by 11%,” Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine and Google Research said in September. But Professor Christophe Fraser, co-lead author, tells the BBC that to stop the outbreak completely, 56% of the UK population would to use the app, which is “a very ambitious target.”
In the US, Utah was one of the first states to release a contact-tracing app. Created by startup Twenty, Healthy Together debuted in April and saw uptake around 2%, but misinformation means contact tracing is slow-going, even as cases explode, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Adoption stood at about 5 percent last month.
“We’re battling misinformation and politicization of these issues, but there’s also just the kind of inherent problem of having a very large, diverse, heterogeneous country with a staggered epidemic that has hit different communities at different times,” Professor Caroline Buckee, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, said on September episode of the Ask a Harvard Professor podcast.
In New York, which was hit hard at the outset of the pandemic, 740,000 people have downloaded the state’s contact-tracing app, COVID Alert NY, as of Oct. 1, according to Jonah Bruno, Director of Communications at NYS Department of Health.
“We understand how important privacy is to building public trust. The COVID Alert NY app was built with privacy and data security central to the design. All user data is anonymous, the app does not track your location, and explicit user consent is required every step of the way. Exposure Notification apps like COVID Alert NY are helpful tools to strengthen contact tracing programs and stop the spread of COVID-19,” Bruno says.
“We continue to work with community partners across the state to raise awareness and encourage all New Yorkers over the age of 18 to download COVID Alert NY to protect themselves, their friends, families and neighbors.”
Professor Michelle Mello, a health law scholar for Stanford University suggests letting communities take the lead. “I think we’d be in a better place if folks could come together and create a public charter on how they want to run these apps in their communities. And different communities might make different choices. There’s been a lot of good thinking, but it’s thinking by elites,” she says.
Ultimately, contact-tracing efforts might have to get pushy. As Harvard’s Professor Buckee notes, “traditional contact tracing is quite intrusive. You learn everything about where that person’s been. You take names and phone numbers, that’s the whole point of it. And so, I think some of these apps are still really in the trial phase.”
One thing that’s not in a trial phase: COVID-19. Daily cases recently topped 140,000 in the US, a new record.
keyword: Is Contact Tracing Doomed in the US?Is Contact Tracing Doomed in the US?Is Contact Tracing Doomed in the US?