Contact Tracing is a Huge Success So Why Won’t The US Use It?

Contract Tracing South Korea 

Bloomberg reports These Elite Contact Tracers Show the World How to Beat Covid-19

In May, when a coronavirus outbreak hit nightclubs in the South Korean capital of Seoul, health officials quickly unleashed their version of the Navy Seals — elite teams of epidemiologists, database specialists and laboratory technicians.

An old-school, shoe-leather investigation showed the virus had jumped from a night-club visitor, to a student, to a taxi driver and then alarmingly to a warehouse employee who worked with 4,000 others.

Thousands of the employee’s co-workers, their family members and contacts were approached and 9,000 people were eventually tested. Two weeks later, the warehouse flareup was mostly extinguished and infections curtailed at 152.

The work of such so-called Immediate Response Teams offers a look at how South Korea — once the second worst hit by the coronavirus — has succeeded in largely quelling its spread without the lockdowns that have derailed lives worldwide. 

South Korea’s strategy is also a contrast with the harsh shutdowns instituted in parts of China or the tourism blockade implemented by New Zealand in an attempt to completely stamp out the virus. The Asian nation meticulously targets dangerous hotspots and then simply allows most people to lead lives and run businesses unimpeded.

Contract Tracing Singapore

Singapore started Nationwide Contact Tracing in September

Singapore will begin issuing COVID-19 contact tracing wearables to all residents and introduce additional safety measures as it looks to resume more public activities in the coming weeks. These new measures will include the mandatory use of the TraceTogether Tokens or contact tracing app TraceTogether to facilitate digital check-in procedures at some locations where “higher-risk activities” are held.

To date, its TraceTogether app has topped 2.4 million downloads, accounting for about 40% of the local population.

An initial batch of 10,000 Bluetooth-enabled TraceTogether Tokens were distributed to the elderly in June, days after the country’s plans to introduce the wearables sparked public outcry amongst individuals concerned about their privacy. It prompted the government to reveal that the contact tracing devices did not contain a GPS chip and would not have internet or cellular connectivity, so the data collected could only be extracted when the devices were physically handed over to a health official.

Contact Tracing Australia

The COVIDSafe app is part of our work to slow the spread of COVID-19. COVIDSafe supports the current manual process of finding people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

The COVIDSafe app is completely voluntary. Downloading the app is something you can do to protect you, your family and friends and save the lives of other Australians. The more Australians connect to the COVIDSafe app, the quicker we can find the virus and prevent the spread.

In many cases, people won’t know the names and contact details of everyone they’ve been in close contact with (for example, on public transport). COVIDSafe uses technology to make this process faster and more accurate.

State and territory health officials can only access app information if someone tests positive and agrees to the information in their phone being uploaded. The health officials can only use the app information to help alert those who may need to quarantine or get tested.

COVIDSafe stores contacts on the phone for 21 days. This allows for the 14-day incubation period of the coronavirus, plus the time taken to confirm a positive test result. The rolling 21-day window allows COVIDSafe to continuously note only those contacts that occur during the coronavirus incubation window. It automatically deletes contacts older than 21 days.

Nobody can access the encrypted information on your phone, including you.

Downloading and using COVIDSafe is voluntary. The app has a range of privacy and security safeguards built in. It uses secure encryption and does not collect data on your location.

New Cases Per Million 

New Covid Cases Per Million - 2020-11-04A

Tests Per Confirmed Case

Covid Tests Per Confirmed Case - 2020-11-04A

It’s a lot easier to know who to test in a timely manner with contract tracing. 

Singapore and Australia have done a massive amount of testing per case: 4,062 and 3,848 respectively.

In contrast the US has done 13.5 tests per case. Spain, Italy, and the UK are even worse than the US.

Guess which countries have problems and which don’t.

Contact Tracing Is Badly Underused by the U.S.

Scientific  American reports Contact Tracing, a Key Way to Slow COVID-19, Is Badly Underused by the U.S.

The tracing approach is built on a simple idea: When someone tests positive for the new coronavirus or becomes sick with COVID-19, you find all the people the infected person came into contact with, because they, too, may be infected.

Contact tracing is a tried-and-true method that epidemiologists have been using for decades to tackle everything from foodborne illnesses to sexually transmitted diseases, as well as recent outbreaks of SARS and Ebola. “It’s a great tool for bringing an epidemic into the suppression or containment phase,” says special pathogens expert Syra Madad of NYC Health + Hospitals, which leads New York City’s Test & Trace Corps contact-tracing program.

Large-scale contact-tracing programs in places such as South Korea and Germany have been instrumental in suppressing the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Within days of detecting its first case on January 20, South Korea created an emergency response committee that quickly developed wide-scale virus testing, followed by an extensive scaling up of the nation’s network of contact tracers. Germany similarly committed resources to mobilizing a tracing workforce. In both countries, cases have dropped dramatically.

A look at some individual states makes it clear that the workforce has not reached the scale required in several places. For instance, Arkansas recently announced plans to hire 350 new contact tracers, which would bring its total to about 900. But based on the number of current cases, the state actually needs 3,722 tracers, according to a contact-tracing-workforce estimator developed by the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at George Washington University. In Florida, where the pandemic is surging terribly, the same estimator calculates that 291 tracers per 100,000 residents are needed. Yet as of early July, the state had only seven per 100,000. And cases of COVID-19 surged in Texas, even as contact tracers working for the Texas Department of State Health Services were taken off the job.

Though numerous phone apps now aid in identifying potential contacts, “technology can’t solve the problem of convincing someone they should pick up the phone when a contact tracer calls,” says Mary Gray, a social scientist at Microsoft Research, who also has affiliations with Harvard University and Indiana University Bloomington. “It is the reason we are failing—because we keep searching for something else we can buy or put into place. We have not conceded how deeply human this process is.”

One of the biggest challenges is misinformation being disseminated on social media. BuzzFeed News reports that “Facebook posts and YouTube videos spreading hoaxes and lies about contact tracers have received hundreds of thousands of views.” Some of these posts compare tracers to Nazi secret police and falsely say they take people to internment camps. Others suggest they should be greeted with guns. Contact tracers report they have faced death threats.

The next action that comes after a tracer has identified a potential infected person—getting that individual to adhere to quarantine—has proved exceptionally difficult in the U.S. For stopping the spread of a virus, however, isolation is absolutely key. “You can do the contact tracing all you want. But if you’re not also providing these support services people need to isolate, it won’t work,” Madad says. No one is going to quarantine for 14 days if that means losing a job and income or abandoning caregiving.

Personal Anecdote

A friend of mine back in Illinois just informed me that she went in for Covid testing. The test facilities said results in 3 to 7 days.

Is this totally nuts or what?

She went to a second place that told her it would be expensive to do the test unless her plan covered it. Her plan did. She was positive and two days later started vomiting. 

How many people who are asymptomatic or have very minor symptoms will bother to quarantine for 7 days waiting for a damn test?

Is it any wonder this is spreading like mad?

Mish

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