Contact tracing can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks. So, how exactly does this public health tool work, and how are countries around the world using it?
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The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 easily passes from one person to another and while we’re still figuring out exactly how it spreads, it seems like an infected person coughing, or even just exhaling, can spread droplets carrying the virus to another person.
And even more, so far it appears people can also spread COVID-19 without even showing symptoms, which further complicates containment.
To try and stop the virus in its tracks, many places around the world have implemented physical distancing, or social distancing, but another tool that could fight the spread of the novel coronavirus is contact tracing.
Contact tracing involves tracing all the people who have been in contact with an infected person. It’s the public health equivalent of detective work. Sometimes it’s straightforward. Say, a hair stylist is diagnosed with the disease SARS-CoV-2 causes, COVID-19. Their salon likely keeps a list of all the appointments they’ve had while that stylist was working. A public health worker can then use that list to contact everyone who visited the salon and ask them to monitor their symptoms for two weeks.
But sometimes it can get a bit fuzzy.
Find out more about what contract tracing is, how it would work in practice, and how it can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in this Elements.
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Does Covid-19 Contact Tracing Pose a Privacy Risk? Your Questions, Answered
“Aside from surveillance issues, there’s also the problem of making sure a Bluetooth contact-tracing app doesn’t overwhelm people with incorrect warnings that they’ve been exposed. Those false positives could come users self-diagnosing incorrectly or worse, trolls spamming the system.”
How Digital Contact Tracing Slowed Covid-19 in East Asia
“Both the top and bottom performers in Covid-19 containment span the spectrum from autocratic to democratic. It’s true that China is effectively flattening the curve, but so is South Korea, a vibrant democracy. Other democracies — the U.S., Spain, Italy, and France, are faring less well.”
What Is Contact Tracing? Here’s How It Could Be Used to Help Fight Coronavirus
“With a virus like COVID-19, which spreads through the air, things can get complicated quickly. Contact tracers might end up trying to find those who sat near an infected individual on a plane or a bus, for instance, even if the sick person never met them.”
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