As the United States passes the 100,000 death mark, people have pushed contact tracing as a way to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, there are several important questions to ask about contact tracing. What methods will these health officials use to track people's movements, and how will America react to the invasion of their daily lives?
As states continue to open up, contact tracing is one of the most effective ways to track who has been exposed to the virus. By detecting and testing those who come in contact with someone who is infected, the “chains of transmission” can be broken.
Crystal Watson, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, has said the U.S. will need to employ at least 100,000 contact tracers to manage the spread of COVID-19.
In Georgia, testing became available to all people in early May, regardless of whether you are showing symptoms. The Georgia Department of Public Health has compiled a list of testing sites to make it easier for residents to find the location closest to them. This increase in the state's testing numbers will make it easier for health officials to prevent chain transmissions similar to the outbreak in Albany.
However, even if contact tracing can be successfully implemented into a community, it could still be limited by the lack of testing in some areas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testing is increasing but it may be difficult to find a place to get tested.
Testing and contact tracing are further complicated by the fact that we still don’t know everything about COVID-19. The symptoms of the virus vary from person to person, and some people never show any symptoms at all. We also still don’t know exactly how infectious the virus is.
On the surface, contact tracing is one of the best ways to limit the spread of the coronavirus; however, it can also be seen as an outrageous invasion of privacy.
South Korea, a country of over 51 million people, was able to flatten its curve through the use of GPS phone tracking, video surveillance and credit card monitoring. Coupled with alerts via text message to people who were exposed to the virus and aggressive COVID-19 testing, South Korea was able to handle the COVID-19 outbreak swiftly.
I don't believe that South Korea’s somewhat invasive method of contact tracing would be tolerated in the United States. Moreover, contact tracing policies would set up a huge legal and political fight.
In the Clarke County Republican newsletter from May 17, Chairman Gordon Rhoden said he believes the current implementation of contact tracing as a way to track the coronavirus has “nothing to do with health.” Rhoden believes that, in order to be effective, contact tracing would have needed to be implemented from the beginning of the virus outbreak. Rhoden also said H.R. 6666 — a bill that will authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to test for COVID-19 and use contact tracing — is a violation of “several amendments to the Bill of Rights.”
Privacy and the right to it is a firmly established part of American culture. I believe if people think their inherent right is being taken away — even if it is only temporarily for the greater good — the American people will fight back.
In order to make contact tracing as effective as possible, there will need to be a large number of people working constantly to notify those who have been affected by the novel coronavirus. But these people can’t do their job without the cooperation of the public.
I believe contact tracing could be an effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19 but I also believe in the importance of privacy. I think the methods that contact tracers use to track the movements of infected people matter. What personal documents will they have access to? And how will they prevent those who come in contact with infected people from continuing their lives as normal? For contact tracing to work, these are important questions policymakers will need to answer.