What Is Contact Tracing, and Why Is It Important During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Contact tracing has actually existed for centuries, but you’ve probably been hearing this term pop up more lately. As COVID-19 continues to be a global threat, the number of contact tracing jobs and technologies continues to grow. However, you may not even know what the term means. What exactly is contact tracing, and why is it important during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Public health officials have actually used this valuable tactic for many outbreaks. When it comes to contact tracing that’s powered by technology, each country has a different approach, including the U.S. Let's take a look at what’s involved in contact tracing, its importance, how other countries are using it and where the U.S. stands.
What Is Contact Tracing?
Public health investigators conduct a series of steps for contact tracing. First, investigators reach out to infected individuals and work with them to identify everyone they have been in close contact with during a certain time. Next, they warn those contacts of possible exposure, urge them to self-quarantine and provide them with resources, such as information on where to get tested and what to do if their symptoms worsen. They are not required to share the infected person's identity.
Why Is It Important?
Public health officials often use contact tracing to manage sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis. However, it has been a very valuable tactic for severe outbreaks, including the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 and the SARS outbreak in 2002. During the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing could help prevent the spread of the virus and reduce the possibility of another wave, allowing people to end quarantine and return to normal life faster.
Which Countries Have Successfully Used Digital Contact Tracing?
Tech-powered contact tracing has been used in several countries for months, including Singapore, China, Taiwan and South Korea. Some of these methods are aggressive and mandated by the government, while others simply ask citizens to opt-in to the tracking system. Singapore quickly rolled out TraceTogether, an app that relies on Bluetooth to record people’s movements. It assists public health experts in contact tracing accurately and rapidly. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has publicly encouraged the nation to download and use the app.
Does the U.S. Have a Contact Tracing App?
App-based contact tracing isn’t implemented in the U.S., but it might be coming sooner than you think. Apple and Google have collaborated to transform people’s phones into COVID-19 tracking devices. However, you need to opt-in for it to work.