Masks and Tracing and 1984

Contact tracing needs better PR.  It is an essential public health tool and the word is not getting out about it. 

Why?  People are as fearful of giving up their data as they are of getting sick. Maybe more. Yes, if I were undocumented I’d likely have many peoples lives at stake.  But local public officials care only about stopping the spread.  Big Brother is not watching like it’s 1984.  Still, mention contact tracing and the push back is on privacy, not on safety and saving lives as it should be.

Some hold outs may think vaccines are just around the corner so no need for contact tracing, quarantining, sharing data, or even wearing a mask.  Some may also think with high infection rates there are so many antibodies the virus has no place to go — herd immunity. 

We are not there yet.  The virus persists.  Outbreaks and upsurges continue when and where we least expect them.  

Contact tracing effectively combats Covid and it needs more marketing support and public acceptance to work.  It needs the same airtime as masks and social distancing:  “If you are sick, stay home and share your contacts with contact tracers.  Together we can stop the spread.”

The more we fight the virus the more the economy can open.  But, when we slack on defense, the virus creeps in – even essential workers go into quarantine when they test positive.  Dr. Keren Landman of Atlanta shared a recent study that asserts that “a vigorous contact tracing effort could reduce viral spread by two-thirds and ultimately snuff out transmission.”

Yes, the pandemic will end.  Wearing masks, social distancing and, at the right times, contact tracing put that end in sight.

  • We’ve learned that showing social distance in public and wearing masks to protect others.  In Texas, when more people started wearing masks this August new cases started to lower.  (Sorry, it’s true, no one wanted to use condoms either.)  We’ve learned to use them.  They stop the spread.
  • In Washington DC 96% of cases and contacts are reached within 2 days.  Local contact tracers use shared data locally for public health purposes only.  They offer resources to cases and contacts so they stay home and so the rest of us can safely go to work.

The chart below is a comparison of the virus spreading naturally and when it’s held in check by contact tracing.  4 cases is better than 15.

Left: No Contact Tracing — Each Case Infects 2 People Total=15 over 2 weeks; Right: With Contact Tracing — Each case Infects 1 Person Total=4 over 2 weeks

Ref. Coursera-Johns Hopkins Measuring and Maximizing Impact of COVID-19 Contact Tracing

Today, new cases need to share their close contacts.  These are often family members but also include others. These clusters of individuals must all be assured they can access resources while patiently quarantine. And their data is secured locally.  In the next chart Vital Strategies illustrates how to defeat the virus.

Box it in with Testing and Tracing

Vaccines are needed.  So is herd immunity.  But they are still coming online.  We need to do more now to get the economy back.

Social distancing, wearing a mask, and contact tracing are trade-offs between individual liberty and public health.  Still, if it’s good for others, then it helps our economy, and a good economy helps ourselves. That closes the loop pretty well, and besides — Big Brother wants us to stay healthy!

Shining a Light on Data