Contact Tracing News

Contact Tracing News

A well-establish public health tactic to break the chain of transmission of infectious diseases is called Contact-Tracing. During the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic of 2020, various digital-contact tracing solutions and traditional contact tracing programs have been launch around the world.

Digital-contact-tracing involves using smartphones to detect when people are close to each other (>6 feet) for long enough time (minutes) that there is a significant risk of contagion so that one can be warned if the other person is later diagnosed with having the disease.

These apps have yet to integrate location-based attributes, such as being outside in the sun and wind, as substantive factors in contact-tracing alert algorithms.

To stay updated on these innovative programs, Digital Contact Tracing News aggregates the latest announcements, which are listed below:

Digital-Contact-Tracing News

June 30, 2020 - The US Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission announced they are partnering to alert the public of emerging threats to steal money and sensitive information through contact tracing scams. Scammers may send text messages or emails with fake links, or call people pretending to be contact tracers.

June 26, 2020 - British cybersecurity company VTS, in partnership with several tech firms, is rolling out the COVI-PASS, which is a “digital health passport” that will contain your “relevant health information." In May 2020, VST signed with the owner of COVI-PASS, Circle Pass Enterprises to integrate VST’s VCode into the biometric RFID-enabled “passports” which can be accessed via mobile phone or a key fob that will flash colored lights to denote if an individual is to be denied entry to public locations. According to Twitter posts, VST now has a direct partnership with the UK government and has secured contracts to deploy its technology in 15 countries, including Italy, Portugal, France, India, the USA, Canada, Sweden, Spain, South Africa, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, and the Netherlands.

June 23, 2020 - Official figures just released by the NHS in the UK suggest Test and Trace were unable to trace 33% of those who tested positive (and thus their contacts, too) between 28 May and 3 June 2020.

June 21, 2020 - The NYTimes reports that New York City has hired 3,000 contact tracers, but the initial data indicates that only 35% of those infected with coronavirus are giving contact tracers the info they need.

June 17, 2020 - France24 reported France's digital privacy approach differs from Germany, Italy, and other EU countries, which are Bluetooth based, which stores contact tracing data on individual smartphones only. France's "StopCovid" app launched on June 2nd and about 1.5 million people have activated it - roughly 2% of the French population.

June 17, 2020 - A new lawsuit seeks to stop coronavirus contact tracing in Texas. “There is no means for any Texan to opt-out of this surveillance, as others will be asked to report on everyone with whom they have been in the presence of, without regard to the privacy rights of those who do not want to be surveilled,” said the lawsuit that was filed in federal court.

June 16, 2020 - If combined with moderate physical distancing measures, self-isolation and contact tracing would be more likely to achieve control of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions, reported a study published in The Lancet.

June 15, 2020 - When asked if they planned to download a contact-tracing app, an overwhelming majority — 71% — answered no. The data was gathered from an online survey of just over 2,000 people in the USA, collected on June 1, 2020, by polling company Opinion Matters on behalf of the security company Avira.

June 9, 2020 - Apple has updated its own COVID-19 iOS app and website with new features to allow users to anonymously share info, including their age, the number of existing health conditions, symptoms, potential exposure risks, and the state in which they’re located.

June 8, 2020 - Singapore government is expanding the TraceTogether Program to include a stand-alone device called the TraceTogether Token. It will function in the same way the app does and uses Bluetooth signals to record other nearby TraceTogether devices. In terms of privacy safeguards, the statement by the Smart Nation Office added that the TraceTogether Token has no GPS and has no Internet or cellular connectivity. The data cannot be pulled from the device unless the user physically hands in the device to the Ministry of Health contact tracers, if and when he/she is confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.

June 8, 2020 - Google Maps starts warning travelers about coronavirus restrictions and mass transit crowding. If the destination is across country borders, Maps will alert users to testing checkpoints along the way and any travel restrictions. These pushes are available for travelers between Canada, Mexico, and the USA.

June 4, 2020 - Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will be asked to disclose personal information this month as part of the city’s COVID-19 tracing effort. But elected officials, advocates, and privacy experts argue the de Blasio administration’s unwillingness to specify how privacy will be protected will limit the tracing effort's reach and potentially prolong the need for strict lockdown measures. NYC City Hall said data will not be shared with law enforcement but declined to elaborate further, saying, even though the effort is already underway, “many facets of the technological side are still developing.”

June 4, 2020 - The new wave of software products allows employers to direct their workers to get a Covid-19 test, clear them to return to work, track their symptoms, and trace the contacts of anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus, reported Statnews.

May 26, 2020 - A new report our analysis of 50 COVID-19-related apps, including their use and their access to personally identifiable information, to ensure that the right to privacy and civil liberties are protected. A troubling discovery is that only 16 of the 50 apps indicate that the user’s data will be made anonymous, encrypted, and secured and will be transmitted online and reported only in an aggregated format. 

May 26, 2020 - The app development team Switzerland's coronavirus digital-contact-tracing app SwissCovid announced it has become the 1st to launch a solution on the technology offered by Apple and Google. 

May 22, 2020 - California Connected will see 10,000 public health workers reach out to people who test positive for COVID-19 and enable access to free confidential testing and medical advice. They'll also offer testing services to people who have been in close contact with those who tested positive. Texts and calls will come in on phones under the caller ID "CA COVID Team," as will emails. 

May 21, 2020 - New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H) begun their contact tracing program last week, with 500 tracers onboarded. The move for H+H to take the lead on this program was significant since it deviated from the longstanding practice of the city Department of Health taking the lead.

May 21, 2020 - Governor Larry Hogan today announced that Maryland’s statewide contact tracing operation across all 24 of the state’s jurisdictions will be fully operational. The Maryland Department of Information Technology and the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) partnered to develop COVID Link, a state-of-the-art data management platform, to facilitate the state’s contact tracing partnership with local officials. 

May 20, 2020 - Apple and Google announced their Exposure Notifications Technology became available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. 'What we’ve built is not an app—rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install.'

May 20, 2020 - As the COVID-19 disease pandemic has escalated the health privacy debates, US lawmakers are trying to pass new legislation. The Wicker and Blumenthal bills both try to fill the gaps not covered by HIPAA — but they do so differently, says STAT news.

May 20, 2020 - A Frisco, Texas-based company has won a $295.3 million state contract to track down Texans potentially infected with the coronavirus. MTX Group Inc. won the 27-month contract in a whirlwind bidding process, beating out 10 mostly big-name corporations, such as IBM, AT&T Global Business Services, and Accenture LLP.

May 18, 2020 - The Southern Nevada Health District announced when close contacts are identified, they are notified by the Health District and provided information on the need to self-quarantine. All identified contacts also have the opportunity to enroll in the Health District’s symptom monitoring mobile app. Contacts log in daily to report whether they are experiencing signs or symptoms of COVID-19. If anyone reports signs or symptoms, the Health District is alerted and can arrange for testing. To ensure confidentiality, patients will be asked to verify their identity on the Health District’s secure portal prior to being given information about their test results.

May 18, 2020 - UK Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove said the track and trace scheme would be ready to launch nationwide by the end of May 2020, with “just over 17,000” contact tracers already hired. The NHS’s digital arm, NHSX, has developed its own coronavirus tracking app, which will hold data centrally, instead of opting for an alternative from Google and Apple that operates in a decentralized way.

May 14, 2020 - India is aggressively pushing a state-backed contact tracing app Aarogya Setu, or “Health Bridge,” to fight the spread of COVID-19, raising fears that it is on its way to Chinese-style methods of high tech social control. The Indian app also uses GPS location data to augment the information gathered via Bluetooth and build a centralized database of the spread of the infection—an approach avoided by most countries for privacy reasons.

May 13, 2020 - South Korea to boost coronavirus tracing privacy amid fears of a backlash against people who attend nightclubs.

May 11, 2020 - Nearly 38% of Icelanders are using Rakning C-19, which launched in early April. It tracks users’ GPS data to compile a record of where they have been, allowing investigators—with permission—to look at whether those with a positive diagnosis are potentially spreading the disease. 

May 5, 2020 - A mobile app launched during March 2020, can now predict geographical hotspots of COVID-19 disease incidence up to 1-week in advance of the public.

May 4, 2020 - Google and Apple announced a ban on GPS location data from contact-tracing apps that rely on their technology. In effect, this decision forces states to choose between tracking encounters using Bluetooth or collecting location data. Apple and Google also said they will allow only one app per country to use the contact system, to avoid fragmentation, and encourage wider adoption. The companies said they would, however, support countries that opt for a state or regional approach, and that U.S. states will be allowed to use the system.

April 27, 2020 - Andy Slavitt, former director of CMS and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA chief says the US Congress needs to devote funding to help states track down people who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

April 24, 2020 - Israel’s Knesset Suspends COVID-19 Cellphone Surveillance. The Health Ministry launched a phone application HaMagen which allows for the “identification of contacts between diagnosed patients and people who came in contact with them in the 14 days prior to the patient's diagnosis of the disease.

April 24, 2020 - The WHO said 'At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.” People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may, therefore, increase the risks of continued transmission.'

April 24, 2020 - Netcompany and the Danish National Board of Digitisation the broad national emergency applications are designed for use by both the Danish health authorities and citizens, to support coronavirus efforts. COVIDmeter – Monitoring the Prevalence of COVID-19. COVIDmeter will collect information from citizens about disease symptoms in relation to COVID-19. Users will be encouraged to fill out a digital questionnaire about their health on a weekly basis, allowing authorities to assess the development of the epidemic.

April 22, 2020 - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced the launch of a similar voluntary app, called Healthy Together. If an individual test positive, public health officials will be able to access a list of contacts and past locations. The app—which was designed by the social network startup Twenty—relies on a combination of GPS, WiFi, IP address, cellular location data, and Bluetooth to identify contacts. It also requests access to phone contacts.

April 21, 2020 - US Senators propose using state-based Immunization Registries to track the spread of nCV within defined populations who may share similar levels of exposure, geography, and risk factors to determine who may and may not be immune. Employment and social interaction rules can be dynamically adjusted to benefit the employee, workplace productivity, public health, and stability while containing the spread of disease.

April 21, 2020 - Draganfly Inc. announced the first-ever series of U.S. ‘pandemic drone’ test flights in Westport, Connecticut, considered a COVID-19 ‘hotspot’, to identify social distancing and detect symptoms presented by the virus, in an effort to keep the community safe.

April 21, 2020 - Scientists and researchers from more than 25 countries are urging governments not to abuse contract tracing technology to spy on their people. The rift has opened up over a German-led initiative, called Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), which has been criticized for being too centralized and thus prone to governmental mission creep. The academics said that contact tracing apps that use automated Bluetooth tracing are far more privacy-preserving than apps that collect location data in a central store.

April 18, 2020 - Digital Herd Immunity arises because contact-tracing protocols based on smartphone capabilities can lead to a highly efficient quarantining of infected population members and thus the extinguishing of nascent epidemics. When the disease characteristics are favorable and smartphone usage is high enough, the population is in this immune phase.

April 16, 2020 - In a new set of guidelines, the European Commission said that the 'public trust is paramount for the system to work because the apps are most effective when many people use them.'

April 16, 2020 - The Israeli government tests 4D radar imaging to detect coronavirus symptoms. The sensors are suitable for placement in homes, hospitals, factories, public transportation hubs, and border crossings.

April 15, 2020 Digital Travel Tokens  - The Chief of Moscow’s Department of Information Technologies Eduard Lysenko said "The system of issuing [digital permits] is an unprecedented one. Permits can be requested on the Moscow government’s website, on the phone, and via a text message.

April 14, 2020 - AI-based solutions - A clinical team in Boston has reported being able to monitor a COVID-19 patient remotely, thanks to a device developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) that can monitor a patient’s breathing, movement and sleep patterns using wireless signals.

April 10, 2020 Geo-based identification  -  Apple and Google said in dual statements they will launch a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact-tracing.

April 7, 2020 - Gov. Doug Burgum and the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) in partnership with ProudCrowd, creators of the popular Bison Tracker app, launched a free mobile app, Care19, to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in North Dakota.

April 2, 2020 Digital map data sharing  -  Google started sharing public county and state “community mobility reports,” which show how people’s movements among grocery stores, parks, workplaces, and residential homes have increased or reduced, compared with their normal baseline movements.

February 11, 2020 - Hangzhou City, China took the lead in launching health codes, using the “red, yellow and green” three-color two-dimensional code as a digital health certificate. Residents and people who come to Hangzhou can simply pick up nails or Alipay to receive the green code. Passing by code, red-code, and yellow code needs to be isolated according to regulations and health checks. "Health code is a digital health assessment certificate, based on real data, by citizens or reworks personnel through online declaration, after the background review, you can generate a personal QR code, as an individual in the region An electronic voucher for entry and exit is used for one declaration, which is common in all regions. 

Non-Digital Contact Tracing News

June 17, 2020 - California Hits Up Libraries and Tax Offices To Recruit 20,000 New Disease Detectives.

June 4, 2020 - The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told the US Congress that the country needs between 30,000 and 100,000 people working on contact tracing in order to help contain the next wave of the coronavirus.

May 31, 2020 - 'There was no shortage of contact tracers by the time of sustained community transmission, and PHE contacted over 5,000 people as part of its contact tracing during the containment phase. We believe that this activity delayed the peak of the pandemic by around a month and enabled the NHS to prepare more fully.'

May 29, 2020 - Contact tracing could help avoid another lockdown. Can it work in the U.S.?

May 26, 2020 - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that $56 million will fund to go expand contact-tracing programs in Chicago, a city of 8.8 million residents. Cook County, which includes Chicago, has confirmed 2,889 fatalities related to COVID-19 disease during 2020.

May 25, 2020 - The Italian government announced intentions to create an army of social distancing staff saying it will recruit 60,000 people to monitor their friend's and neighbors’ activities and make sure they are adhering to social distancing policies.

May 21, 2020 - Detective, nurse, confidant: Virus tracers play many roles, reports the AP.

May 18, 2020 - Life as a Covid-19 contact tracer: sleuthing, stress, and veering off-script.

May 11, 2020 - A new Coursera class developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is now available to train contact tracers on the principles of the public health strategy many consider critical for slowing the spread of COVID-19. The free six-hour course is open to anyone, but taking and passing it will be a requirement for thousands of contact tracers being hired by the state of New York to fight the pandemic. 

May 8, 2020 - Frontier Airlines said anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be denied boarding.

May 8, 2020 - NYC Mayor De Blasio Strips Control of Virus Tracing From Health Department.

May 8, 2020 - The mayor of Austin, Texas issued an order for restaurants to track and report certain patrons to the Public Health Department.

May 7, 2020 - Ventura County, CA discusses the launch of an innovative contact-tracing program in a Youtube video.

April 30, 2020 - New York's Program Expected to Have 6,400 to 17,000 Tracers Statewide Depending on Projected Number of Cases.

April 28, 2020 - Anita Kurian, assistant director of the Communicable Disease Division with San Antonio Metro Health (SAMH), said on April 28, 2020, the first objective is to identify as many positive (SARS-CoV-2) cases as possible. Next, they work to isolate and place those individuals in quarantine, while at the same time conducting the contact-tracing process, investigating all the people who may have been exposed by an infected patient, and place them in quarantine as well. Kurian said they have 17 investigators on staff with SAMH, and a corps of 70 volunteers to assist in the process, in southern Texas.

April 20, 2020 - The CDC is funding 650 health workers at state health departments to supplement more than 600 CDC staff already in place, according to director Dr. Robert Redfield. The goal is to ensure every community can do enough testing and contact tracing to prevent new outbreaks from occurring.

April 14, 2020 - When shoppers visit Valley County in Montana, a new health department regulation requires certain people to wear an arm-band to clarify their coronavirus infection status, reported the Montana Daily Gazette.

April 3, 2020 - Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced an initiative April 3 to accelerate the state’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 by dramatically scaling up the state’s capacity for contact tracing through a new collaboration with Partners In Health (PIH) in which Harvard Medical School faculty will play key leadership roles.