Archive for the ‘contact tracing’ Category

New study models ways of emerging from a pandemic lockdown

August 7th, 2020
Testing and contact tracing may be essential for exiting pandemic lockdowns.

Enlarge / Testing and contact tracing may be essential for exiting pandemic lockdowns. (credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

As the scale and threat of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, researchers who trace the spread of diseases were pretty unanimous: to buy us time to develop a therapy or vaccine, countries needed to implement heavy-handed restrictions to limit the opportunities for the virus to spread. Experts painted frightening pictures of huge peaks of infections that would overwhelm local hospital systems if lockdowns weren't put in place, leading to many unnecessary deaths. For countries like Italy and Spain, which were already in the throes of an uncontrolled spread, reality bore these predictions out. Peaks rose sharply in advance of restrictions but fell nearly as sharply once they were put in place.

But those same models also predicted that ending the restrictions would put countries at risk of a return of the virus a few months later, forcing governments to again decide between strict restrictions or an out-of-control pandemic in the next step of a cycle that would repeat until a vaccine or therapy became available. Those countries now have a somewhat different question: are there ways of controlling the virus without resorting to a cycle of on-and-off lockdowns? For countries like the US, which implemented restrictions briefly, erratically, and half heartedly, such that peaks haven't been separated by much of a trough, the same question will become relevant if we ever get the virus under control.

A new study by a large international team uses epidemiological models to explore ways of keeping things in check while allowing most of the population to resume a semi-normal life. It finds that there are ways of handling restriction easing, but they require a combination of an effective contact tracing system, extensive testing, and a willingness of households to quarantine together.

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Posted in Biology, contact tracing, COVID-19, epidemiology, lockdowns, medicine, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

NY partygoers get subpoenas after stonewalling COVID-19 contact tracers

July 2nd, 2020
Women stand in a doorway.

Enlarge / This picture taken on April 5, 2019, shows nurses waiting for patients at the Rockland County Health Department in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York, amid a measles outbreak. (credit: Getty | JOHANNES EISELE )

Test, isolate, trace, quarantine: these are the bedrock public health measures proven effective at stamping out an infectious disease before it flares to the point where the only option left is to foist draconian lockdowns on whole populations.

The World Health Organization and public health experts have uttered and re-uttered the strategy ad nauseam since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in January. And health officials in many places followed the advice, quickly testing those at risk, isolating those infected, tracing people with whom patients had contact, and quarantining anyone exposed. It’s a strategy that requires leadership and resources but also public cooperation and commitment from everyone to do their part to defeat a common viral enemy for the greater good. With all of that, the strategy works. The places that followed the advice and largely stood together—Hong Kong and South Korea, for instance—are among those that have been the most successful at containing the devastating new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

The United States, meanwhile, did not take the advice, and the virus has spread widely, triggering lockdowns and now re-lockdowns. So far, the US has recorded over 2.7 million cases and more than 128,000 deaths—and counting. The country has more than 25 percent of the cases globally, while only having around 4 percent of the world’s population. Still, the lesson has not sunk in.

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Posted in contact tracing, COVID-19, isolate, new york, public health, quarantine, Rockland County, SARS-CoV-2, science, testing | Comments (0)

More than 7 in 10 Americans won’t use contact-tracing apps, data shows

June 15th, 2020
Phones and tablets in a plastic bag with a biohazard label.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Because of the lag between infection and the onset of symptoms, people can contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus and then pass it on, potentially to many others, before they know they're infected and have to isolate. So being able to identify and warn individuals who have been exposed to an infected person—known as contact tracing—is widely acknowledged to be a vital part of any effective strategy to beat COVID-19. Which is why it is extremely dismaying to see survey data that says fewer than 3 in 10 Americans intend to use contact-tracing apps to allow that to happen.

The data was gathered from an online survey of just over 2,000 people in the United States, collected on June 1 by polling company Opinion Matters on behalf of the security company Avira. When asked if they planned to download a contact-tracing app, an overwhelming majority—71 percent—answered no. Not only is that bad, it appears to be a deterioration from earlier this year; in April, we covered a poll that found 1 in 2 Americans would probably or definitely not use a contact-tracing app.

Most of the resistance to downloading a contact-tracing app came from people over the age of 55. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that people aged 55 and over account for almost 80 percent of US COVID-19 deaths to date.

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Posted in contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, mistrust of science, science | Comments (0)

New Zealand has beaten COVID-19. Here’s how

June 8th, 2020
A happy woman speaks at a podium.

Enlarge / New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern takes part in a press conference about the COVID-19 coronavirus at Parliament in Wellington on June 8, 2020. New Zealand has no active COVID-19 cases after the country's final patient was given the all clear and released from isolation, health authorities said on June 8. (credit: Getty | MARTY MELVILLE )

New Zealand has officially beaten COVID-19.

The island country announced Monday, June 8, that its last remaining person with the infection had gone 48 hours without symptoms and is now considered recovered.

With no active cases, the government moved to “alert level 1,” the lowest of four alert levels that effectively lifts all remaining social-distancing measures. There are now no restrictions on movement, domestic travel, or gatherings. Fans of rugby and other sports are allowed to return, en masse, to stadiums. Schools, workplaces, restaurant, and shops are all open.

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Posted in contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, Infectious disease, new zealand, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, testing | Comments (0)

COVID-19 privacy protection bill introduced with bipartisan support

June 2nd, 2020
A global pandemic is no excuse for sticking your nose in other people's private data.

Enlarge / A global pandemic is no excuse for sticking your nose in other people's private data. (credit: Getty Images)

A group of lawmakers from both parties is putting forth legislation that aims to protect Americans' privacy and personal data while advancing public health initiatives in the face of COVID-19.

Well over 100,000 people in the United States have died as a result of the current pandemic, which is far from over. Mitigating the further spread of the disease will require robust contact tracing, among other efforts. The scale of tracing required, however, is enormous and difficult to manage.

In the modern era, any issue of scale is met with the promise of an app, and contact tracing is no different. Apple and Google worked together on an API for contact tracing, which was recently deployed to phones. But public confidence in contact-tracing apps is already mixed at best, and recent statements by state and local governments conflating public health contact tracing with police investigation of protesters have sown further distrust.

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Posted in bills, congress, contact tracing, COVID-19, Policy, Privacy | Comments (0)

Maryland reopens—and quickly sees its largest COVID-19 spike

May 20th, 2020
Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland, wears a protective mask while talking to Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, during a tour of the distribution center of Coastal Sunbelt Produce in Laurel, Maryland, US, on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Enlarge / Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland, wears a protective mask while talking to Ivanka Trump, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, during a tour of the distribution center of Coastal Sunbelt Produce in Laurel, Maryland, US, on Friday, May 15, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Maryland reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday—just four days after the state began easing public health restrictions aimed at thwarting the spread of disease.

Though state officials note that an increase in testing and a backlog of test results may partly explain the spike, case counts overall suggest that disease transmission is not on the decline—and transmission could very easily increase as residents begin venturing into public spaces more frequently.

Maryland’s outcome may hold lessons for other states attempting their own reopening. As of today, May 20, all 50 states have begun easing restrictions at some level, according to The Washington Post.

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Posted in contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, emerging infectious disease, Infectious disease, Maryland, public health, reopening, SARS-CoV-2, science, testing, virus | Comments (0)

Half of Americans won’t trust contact-tracing apps, new poll finds

April 29th, 2020
A smartphone belonging to a resident of Cranston, R.I., shows personal notes he made for contact tracing Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

Enlarge / A smartphone belonging to a resident of Cranston, R.I., shows personal notes he made for contact tracing Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (credit: Steven Senne | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images)

After what feels like the longest March and April in human history, hundreds of millions of us are itching to reboot the world and get schools, retail, and every other "non-essential" part of society up and running again. Before we can safely do that, though, we'll need an enormous increase in our ability to perform contact tracing—identifying and contacting everyone who's been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19 so that they in turn can hunker down in quarantine and avoid infecting others.

Contact tracing in a small or medium-size community is one thing, but doing it at scale is quite another. There are roughly 330 million people living in the United States, and reaching them all, even with a small army of trained contact tracers, is a challenge, to say the least. Scale, however, is one thing modern technology excels at, so Apple and Google have proposed a platform that would let everyone's smartphones become part of a massive national contact-tracing network.

Before the platform is even developed, though, it's showing two huge problems. First, billions of phones won't be able to use the tech. And second: even among those who could, a solid half of Americans would refuse to because they don't trust insurers or tech companies with their health data.

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Posted in apple, contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, google, HIPAA, Policy, Privacy | Comments (0)

2 billion phones cannot use Google and Apple contact-tracing tech

April 20th, 2020
16 April 2020, Berlin: Unused mobile phones lie on the floor. In Germany, nearly 70 million people use a smartphone - and many of them still have one or more old devices lying unused in their drawers. Photo: Lisa Ducret/dpa (Photo by Lisa Ducret/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Enlarge / 16 April 2020, Berlin: Unused mobile phones lie on the floor. In Germany, nearly 70 million people use a smartphone - and many of them still have one or more old devices lying unused in their drawers. Photo: Lisa Ducret/dpa (Photo by Lisa Ducret/picture alliance via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

As many as a billion mobile phone owners around the world will be unable to use the smartphone-based system proposed by Apple and Google to track whether they have come into contact with people infected with the coronavirus, industry researchers estimate.

The figure includes many poorer and older people—who are also among the most vulnerable to COVID-19—demonstrating a “digital divide” within a system that the two tech firms have designed to reach the largest possible number of people while also protecting individuals’ privacy.

Apple’s iPhones and devices running on Google’s Android operating system now account for the vast majority of the 3.5 billion smartphones estimated to be in active use globally today. That provides a huge potential network to track infection, with surveys suggesting widespread public support for the idea.

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Posted in contact tracing, COVID-19, Policy, science, Tech | Comments (0)

We may need 300,000 contact tracers to defeat COVID-19. We have 2,200

April 14th, 2020
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

Enlarge / Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As Americans anxiously await news of when they can emerge from their 4-meter-wide personal-space bubbles and go back to something resembling normal life, public health experts are working furiously to determine essential steps to get us there safely. And a consensus is emerging that key among those steps is recruiting a massive number of people to perform contact tracing.

"It is going to be critical," director Robert Redfield of the US Centers for Disease Control told NPR in an interview late last week. Scaled-up contact tracing, along with increased testing, is needed to "make sure that when we open up, we open up for good."

"We can't afford to have multiple community outbreaks that can spiral up into sustained community transmission," he said, "so it is going to be very aggressive, what I call 'block and tackle,' 'block and tackle.'"

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Posted in CDC, contact tracing, COVID-19, Infectious disease, outbreak, pandemic, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, WHO | Comments (0)

Apple and Google detail bold and ambitious plan to track COVID-19 at scale

April 11th, 2020
Apple and Google detail bold and ambitious plan to track COVID-19 at scale

Enlarge (credit: Google)

In a bold and ambitious collaboration, Apple and Google are developing a smartphone platform that tries to track the spread of the novel coronavirus at scale and at the same time preserve the privacy of iOS and Android users who opt in to it.

The cross-platform system will use the proximity capabilities built into Bluetooth Low Energy transmissions to track the physical contacts of participating phone users. If a user later tests positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, she can choose to enter the result into a health department-approved app. The app will then contact all other participating phone users who have recently come within six or so feet of her.

The system, which Google and Apple described here and here respectively, applies a technological approach to what’s known as contact tracing, or the practice of figuring out everyone an infected individual has recently been in contact with. A recently published study by a group of Oxford researchers suggested that the novel coronavirus is too infectious for contact tracing to work well using traditional methods. The researchers proposed using smartphones, since they’re nearly ubiquitous, don’t rely on faulty memories of people who have been infected, and can track a nearly unlimited number of contacts of other participating users.

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Posted in Android, apple, Biz & IT, contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, google, iOS, Policy, Privacy | Comments (0)