• Alexandra Sanyal

Scaling Down: The Importance of Smaller Scale Contact Tracing

Way back when, as we were just starting to understand the severity of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, there was one solution on everyone's mind: an effective vaccine. As the number of deaths continued to climb, our patience ran thin — how many more lives would we lose while we waited for a medical solution that needed months to perfect, test and approve?!

Although scientists and medical personnel are working hard "behind the scenes" to get a vaccine out as soon as safely possible, the top-down nature of our country's health policy system is designed in such a way that it takes a while for any solution to trickle down from the lab to the common person.

Although this seems to put us in an extremely vulnerable position, it doesn't necessarily have to. Public health officials have been promoting Contact Tracing, as defined by the CDC, is used to "prevent the spread of infectious disease," by means of "identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and people who they came in contact with (contacts) and working with them to interrupt disease spread." Given the fact that this mitigation method deals directly with peoples personal data, it can feel intrusive and also vague — like getting a call from the health department and being told "I’m afraid we have information that you were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus," for example. How did they get that information? Will your information remain private? What happens now?

This is where data-driven solutions for smaller scale contact tracing come into play. By bringing the data collection and management responsibility down to smaller scale, at the enterprise level, for example, then it facilitates a contact tracking process based on a foundation of trust — I would much rather share my data with my long-term boss, knowingly, than worry about mistreatment or a privacy breach.

How is this possible? As per the CDC contact tracing infographic, featured below, the actual act of collecting and recording ones health data is done at the individual level, though facilitated by a public health representative that advocates for the larger national health system.

It relies on an honor system, assuming you will tell the truth and record your symptoms continuously. This applies even if you aren't the one diagnosed but have been suspected of interacting with an infected person, as shown in page two of the infographic. So, if the onus falls on the individual, then the facilitator, in this case the public health official, ought to be someone that can assure this level of trust.

Fundamentally, what is required for contact tracing is an effective logging tool that can be monitored, in case of infection. It needs to be accessible and easily navigable, so as the encourage people to engage in contact tracing as much as possible — any large scale outcomes at the national level rely on cooperation across the entire country.

We can't be sure how long the impacts of COVID-19 will continue to shape livelihoods within our country, let alone across the globe, so its imperative that we act on the warnings and recommendations being given to us. Are you a small business owner, looking to resume operations but worried about infection control? Then contact tracing at the company level, must be your next step. You may not be able to control outbreaks at your community level, but by maintaining a safe work-environment, you are showing your employees that you were able to evolve in these challenging times and that the health and wellbeing of your employees is of utmost importance to your leadership team.

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