Will Contact-Tracers Protect Your Privacy?

Digital contact tracing apps may infringe on privacy rights

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A new online class developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health became available to train Contact Tracers on the principles of this expanding public health strategy.

The free, 6-hour course announced in a press statement on May 11, 2020, is open to anyone, but passing the related test will be a requirement for thousands of Contact Tracers being hired by the state of New York to fight the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Enrollment for the COVID-19 Contact Tracing course started May 12 and as of 2 p.m. EST over 8,200 people have signed up.

Backed by New York Governor Cuomo and Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former 3-term mayor of New York City, this course is part of an extensive push for Contact Tracing programs to become a standard process in disease control throughout the USA.

In New York, the program will include a baseline of 3 Contact Tracers for every 10,000 residents and is expected to have 6,400 to 17,000 tracers statewide depending on the projected number of COVID-19 cases.

Across the USA, an estimated workforce of 100,000 could be required to help limit the spread of COVID-19, according to a recent report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The new Coursera class, "COVID-19 Contact Tracing," teaches the basics of interviewing people diagnosed with the coronavirus, identifying their close contacts who might have been exposed, and providing them guidance for self-quarantine for 2-weeks.

"Even if you stop a few infections, you're preventing many new cases down the line," Johns Hopkins infectious disease epidemiologist Emily Gurley, the lead instructor of the course, said during a press briefing. 

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Bloomberg School Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie comments: "The Bloomberg School of Public Health has been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 since the beginning, helping leaders and the public understand and respond to this pandemic with the best available science and evidence.”

“Massive contact tracing is a critical component of our recovery. We are thrilled to bring our deep expertise on this important public health practice, as well as our experience in industry-leading online teaching, to the training and curriculum for this groundbreaking effort."

However, these programs may be in conflict with health privacy laws, such as HIPAA.

'While the need for digital contact tracing is clear, everyone must take steps to protect their personal data,' said an article published in The Conversation on May 10, 2020. 

'The complexity of these systems is a risk for the general public who may agree to something that is not well understood.” 

“It is critical to inform the public about these privacy risks before governments take extraordinary powers and infringe on our civil liberties."

CoronavirusToday reports on SARS-CoV-2 outbreak news.