Contact Tracing: The giant obstacle smack in the middle of the road to COVID-19 recovery.

… But we’ve got to figure out how to do it right.

In recent days, news reports about the coronavirus pandemic have gravitated from a shortage of ventilators and possible overcrowding in the nation’s hospitals to how best to reopen the economy (and society).

The challenge, of course, is how to “reopen” in responsible ways that don’t result in a new flare-up of COVID-19 cases.

Governors, medical professionals and governmental personnel have been cogitating about this issue for a number of weeks now, and it appears that some “baby steps” are starting to be taken in some states, with other jurisdictions to follow in the coming days and weeks.

One of the biggest obstacles in the way of bringing the economy – and life – back to some semblance of “normal” is being able to know who has, or has had, the coronavirus — and beyond that identifying who the people are that each affected person has interfaced with in the previous weeks.

There’s the old-fashioned way of doing contract tracing: undertaking in-depth interviews with patients to learn who they have interfaced with for 15 minutes or longer over a period of 2-3 weeks … and then interviewing those persons plus the people they’ve interfaced with … and so on down the line.

Those suspected of being exposed can then be directed to quarantine themselves for the requisite two-week period so as to arrest the spread of the virus.

This is a hugely costly undertaking.

Moreover, it’s labor-intensive — to the tune that a state like Massachusetts is attempting to hire 1,000 new workers to undertake these duties. And that’s just to get through Phase 1 of the recovery effort.

The other challenge with traditional contact tracing is that the data being collected is based on memory and recollections, which as we all know are prone to fallibility.

In our tech-savvy world, some giants are “on the case” – entities like Google and Apple that have teamed up to use cellphone tracking technology to “keep tabs” on people’s movements and thereby know what people may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

Of course, this solution is also prone to gaps in coverage, as phones aren’t turned “on” at all times, not to mention that significant swaths of the population – particularly the elderly – aren’t using cellphones equipped with the types of location information functionalities that can be tracked.  (Surprisingly perhaps, smartphone penetration worldwide still languishes at only around 45% of cellphone users.)

And then there’s always the issue of “privacy” lurking the background – a factor which can’t be ignored in a world where many people are already suspicious of governments snooping into their private lives.

But there could be other methods to employ by which contact tracing can be made more efficient, and more accurate – and at a more reasonable price tag.

Recently my brother, Nelson Nones, whose company, Geoprise Technologies Corporation, specializes in encrypted data management, outlined just such a practical solution that can accomplish this trio of disparate-yet-important goals.

His article on the topic, titled “Call to Action: Recovering from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” has been published and can be read here.

I find the article as persuasive as it is understandable to a technology layperson like myself. Moreover, it seems as though the solutions proposed could become an essential software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution not just for government agencies but for private business organizations, too.

Action is already happening, but so far, the results have been somewhat mixed despite strong support from governments, private businesses and end-users. Functionalities need to continue to build.

But it looks like we may be on our way … and that’s extremely good news for anyone who has an interest in reopening the economies of the world – and going back to living life the way humans were meant to live it.

2 thoughts on “Contact Tracing: The giant obstacle smack in the middle of the road to COVID-19 recovery.

  1. We know all too well; that it is extremely unlikely, that any power oriented entity – government, for example – will be inclined to relinquish power once it has gained it. For the more recent past, take 9/11 and the many ways it justified added surveillance and such in the name of fighting terrorism. Have any of these added powers really been dismantled?

    All stage people and theatre lovers know what a “deus ex machina” is within the plot of a play. It is a stage “god” coming out of a “machine”; i:e: an unpredictable and uncontrollable power inserted into the plot to turn it a certain way. Voila: here’s our deus ex machina: Covid-19, another “terror”, however, inconveniently linked to no one we can haul off to a navy base and imprison and torture.

    But wait!!! We can extend the target population of surveillance and state control to include anyyone who caughs and/or has an elevated temperature for longer than a hot bath. “Are you now or have you ever been . . .” gains a new flavor because it extends to anyone who has shared space with you within the past four months and, Goddess knows, how far into the foreseeable future. After all, don’t we want to be “safe”?

    If the enemy were “terrorists” with dark skin and speaking a somewhat guttural language, it would be easy: Hunt “them” down across the globe, forming international alliances of economic convenience under the banner of terror. We can also install and maintain dictatorships in countries with valuable resources. There are countless ways of benefitting from terrorism, except for those darned civil liberties in what’s left of Western democracies.

    And now, for the sake of getting back to what’s cynically called “normal”, we will fork a hunk of our civil liberties over to a government-run app.

    We named on of our two new cats “George” a little while back, in honor of Mr. Orwell.

    Need I say more?

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