How do I know if I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?
That is the question on many people's minds today. With limited access to coronavirus tests in America, administrators are often forced to decide who gets tested and who does not.
Since some people carrying the virus may not show any symptoms, it is hard to know if a sick person has infected others. This is especially important as the states open and gradually resume regular activities.
In an effort to help address the problem as well as to help contain the spread of COVID-19, Apple and Google announced plans last Friday to build contact-tracing software in their smartphones.
What Is Contact Tracing?
Contact tracing is a process that starts with an infected person and then identifies anyone they’ve contacted.
So contact tracing not only lets people know they are sick and need treatment, but also prevents these people from unknowingly going out and spreading infectious diseases like the coronavirus.
Apple and Google plan to develop contact-tracing software that would send data to pre-existing contact-tracing apps, and would later be embedded directly in the smartphone’s operating system. Using Bluetooth wireless technology, the contact-tracing tech in one phone would be able to detect and trade information with the tech in another nearby device.
By tracking everyone a person makes close contact with, it can send alerts if one of these recent contacts was reported to have the coronavirus. Along with the alert that they may be at risk, one would also receive guidelines on how to isolate themselves to best protect those around them.
Pros & Cons
Countries such as Singapore and South Korea are using some form of contact-tracing technology successfully.
The government in Singapore encourages its people to download TraceTogether, an app with the same function as that planned by Apple and Google. South Korea uses the apps Corona 100m and Corona Map to identify and locate coronavirus patients.
Since Apple and Google have an estimated three billion users, this tech could reach over a third of the global population. However, people have also expressed concerns about privacy. This has been addressed with plans to not collect location data, keep users anonymous, and delete data every two weeks (the infectious period).
In addition, the users are given the choice to opt-in for the software installation. At the same time, if people choose not to participate, it reduces the effectiveness of the contact-tracing tech.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented situation for the entire world, giving rise to suffering, fear, and loss for countless people. But contact tracing may be able to help unite us as a society to contain this pandemic.
Sources: NYTimes, Bloomberg, NPR, HBR