Digital Contact Tracing
Digital Contact Tracing
As the entire world anticipates the end of the COVID-19 disease pandemic, everyone is learning the new, socially-invasive term 'digital contact tracing.' These government-sponsored programs may impact their lives for years to come.
Contact tracing refers to the method that has been used to control contagious disease outbreak for decades. A disease outbreak investigation begins when an individual is identified as having a communicable disease, says the CDC.
Contact tracing investigators interviewed the patient, family members, healthcare providers, and anyone who may have knowledge of the primary patient's contacts, anyone who might have been exposed, and anyone who might have been the source of the disease.
The key to controlling any outbreak is the prompt detection of the infected person's contacts. Once identified, those 'close-contacts' are then subjected to 'control measures.'
Digital Contact Tracing News
The latest digital contact tracing news is published on this webpage.
Digital Contact Tracing
During the 2020 SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, digital contact tracing technologies offer innovative tactics to deploy case-finding and containment efforts.
On May 1, 2020, the U.S. CDC published an outline detailing the critical features for digital contact tracing apps and cites the “PACT protocol” as an example of the recommended method for using “Bluetooth enabled proximity tracking” while maintaining privacy.
On June 5, 2020, the U.S. CDC published 'A Contact Tracer's Guide for COVID-19.' The goals of interaction are to inform the person that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, assess their medical condition and other risk factors, and gather information for continued monitoring and support.
On June 16, 2020, The Lancet published a new study regarding contact tracing tactic effectiveness. Kucharski and colleagues looked at manual contact tracing with self-isolation, which reduced virus transmission by 57%, and app-based tracing with 53% uptake, which improved when in combination with manual tracing.
Contact Tracing Fraud
In the USA, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Federal Trade Commission are partnering to alert the public of emerging threats to steal money and sensitive information through contact tracing scams. Contact tracing scams often appear in the form of text messages or telephone calls seeking money, or Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers, along with other sensitive information not required for authentic contact tracing.
“As cities and states start to reopen for business and implement contact tracing measures in their reopening plans, the Department of Justice remains committed to preventing, prosecuting, and punishing rogue actors who seek to exploit these safety efforts and who attempt to steal money and sensitive information from citizens,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, on June 30, 2020.
Previously, on May 19, 2020, Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC, offered several steps people can take to protect yourself from contact tracing text scammers.
Followed by June 5, 2020, when the US Better Business Bureau issued suggestions on 'How to tell a real contact-tracer from a scam.'
Contact Tracing Immunity Passports
According to the WHO on April 24, 2020, 'Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection.'
'There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.'
Contact Tracing Programs
As of April 28, 2020, NPR surveyed all 50 US states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia to ask them how many contact tracers they currently have — and how many they were planning to add if any. There were 41 states and the District of Columbia which had in total approximately 7,602 workers who do contact tracing on staff now, with plans to surge to a total of 36,587.
In the USA, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health published the 'A National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the US' on April 10, 2020. This plan concludes saying 'Now is the time for the U.S. Congress, the administration, and the country to come together to adequately fund ($3.6 billion) and implement contact tracing at this required scale.'
'The goal of adding at least 100,000 new contact tracers in the United States and managing their work, while challenging, is achievable with appropriate financial support and a collective commitment.'
The WHO issued interim guidelines on May 10, 2020, which includes suggestions if contacts cannot be reached, the contact tracing team should ask relatives and friends or explore other means to find them. If contacts relocate to known locations in the same catchment area, the contact tracing team should visit them. If contacts move to another catchment area, the contact tracing team responsible for that catchment areas should be informed and follow up.
The WHO says the monitoring phase ends 14 days after the contact last came into contact with the COVID-19 patient, or if the contact develops COVID-19. In the event that contacts are in close proximity to each other, such as being in the same household, and one of them becomes a COVID-19 case, the follow-up period is reset to 14 days after the last exposure to the new case.
The European Commission said in a recent statement 'that app usage should be voluntary and not involve any type of data that pinpoints people’s location.'
Digital Contact Tracing Examples
- One example of extensive contact tracing comes from South Korea, with a population of over 50 million. South Korea was able to develop contact tracing plans in response to the spread of a different coronavirus, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015. This experience also prompted the revision of several laws to help improve the outbreak response. Contact tracing in South Korea during 2020 incorporates patient interviews as well as the use of medical records, cell phone GPS records, credit card transaction records, and closed-circuit television.
- A second example is the country of Singapore. To mitigate disease outbreaks, SGUnited, GovTech, and the Ministry of Health have come up with a way for Singaporeans to track close contacts should the need arise – through a simple mobile app. Using Bluetooth, TraceTogether identifies other nearby phones with the app installed. It then tracks when you are in close proximity to these other persons, including timestamps. If the need arises, this information can then be used to identify close contacts based on the proximity and duration of an encounter between the two users.
- A study published on April 27, 2020, analysis shows that isolation and contact tracing reduce the time during which cases are infectious in the community, thereby reducing the R. The overall impact of isolation and contact tracing, however, is uncertain and highly dependent on the number of asymptomatic cases. Moreover, children are at a similar risk of infection to the general population, although less likely to have severe symptoms.
Contact Tracing Privacy Laws
Privacy advocates fear that governments 'will take away personal liberties in the name of fighting COVID-19 and will never give them back.' In the USA, the HIPPA Law was passed in September 1996, which initiated national standards for various uses of health information.
When the Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner declared a public health emergency on January 31, 2020, he also exercised his authority effective March 15, 2020, to waive sanctions and penalties against a covered hospital that does not comply with certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This rule change has led to substantial confusion amongst privacy groups.
In light of privacy concerns, Google and Apple announced on May 4, 2020, to ban GPS location data from contact-tracing apps that rely on their technology. On April 4, the companies said they will not allow the use of GPS location data in conjunction with their new Bluetooth contact-tracing system. In effect, this decision forces states to choose between tracking encounters using Bluetooth or collecting location data.
On April 21, 2020, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) adopted guidelines on the processing of health data for research purposes in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and guidelines on geolocation and other tracing tools in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.
These EDPB guidelines on the processing of health data for research purposes in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak aim to shed light on the most urgent legal questions concerning the use of health data, such as the legal basis of processing, further processing of health data for the purpose of scientific research, the implementation of adequate safeguards and the exercise of data subject rights.
Digital Contact Tracing Market Research
On 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. The most common reason cited was a concern about privacy; 44% of those who said "no" to a contact-tracing app said they would not trust the technology to protect their digital privacy. And, 39% also said they thought the apps created a false sense of security.
On May 26, 2020, a new 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 in this Nature report 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.
On May 19, 2020, an Ipsos poll in the USA found 76% of people would give coronavirus contact tracing officials a list of all the people they had recently come into contact with. However, only 56% would give access to their cell phone location data for tracing systems established by public health officials.
As of April 23, 2020, Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds the US public is divided on whether they would be willing to download an app for these purposes. Overall, a majority of the public (68%), are willing to use an app on their phone to share results from a coronavirus test in order to allow public health officials to track the spread of the outbreak. Majorities across age groups and party identification, say they are willing to use an app for these purposes.
Note: This content has been aggregated from various sources, such as the CDC, WHO, The Lancet, and various media reports by Donald Hackett, who has been following health privacy laws since 1992.