Contact Tracing: There’s An App For That
PITTSBURGH CURRENT - Because of the coronavirus pandemic, ‘contact tracing’ is a term that has moved out of the hidden halls of public health and medical research and into the common lexicon. One of the most essential tools health workers have to track and contain infectious diseases, contact tracing has been used to fight diseases like polio, measles and HIV.
Catherine Haggerty, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Pitt Public Health explained it in clear terms. “Through an initial case investigation, public health workers interview a patient to help them recall all of their close contacts during the timeframe that they have been infectious. As a next step, each of these close contacts are notified of their potential exposure and given instructions …” she told the Current.
The idea of an infection network has been around for a long time, but new technology may be able to lend a hand as the nation opens up, ready or not. While behemoth companies like Google and Apple work on their own apps, a group at Carnegie Mellon has designed and launched NOVID, a contact tracing app they think is more effective and nuanced, and is also private.
If two people have NOVID loaded on their phones and are in contact with one another for a significant period of time (15 minutes or longer), the technology records and stores that information. If one of those people then tests positive for coronavirus, they would self-report it and the app would notify the other person that they had contact with a positive case of COVID-19 and may be contagious themselves.
The tech can only do so much. At the end of the day, humans are going to human.
According to Dr. Haggerty, the value of old-school contact tracers is that they are a two way street of information, both gathering data and also providing valuable instruction and intelligence in the community.
“A key strength of active case investigation and contact tracing is that instructions on isolation and care of cases and quarantine of close contacts can be immediately shared and explained. Additionally, active identification and continued monitoring of close contacts provides public health officials an ability to quickly identify if symptoms develop among close contacts so that testing and isolation can be rapidly implemented if needed,” Haggerty said.
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from Contact Tracing: There’s An App For That, by Jody DiPerna / Pittsburgh Current, June 2, 2020