5 Things About The Confusion Around Apps For Covid Tracking & Tracing
The need to reopen societies and economies requires a monitoring effort at scale with no precedent.
1. What an app is supposed to do:
a. identify new infections on a case-based basis,
b. prevent that people who came in contact with infected people spread the virus further or get severely ill by testing them promptly,
c. prevent these cases from spreading like wildfire, lest having to revert to Phase I, that is, lockdown or shelter-in-place orders.
2. Traditional or technology-aided methods
are effective if they fulfill all of the above. Vice-versa, apps could be even perilous by creating a false sense of security.
3. About monitoring
Traditionally: epidemiologists record all the names and contact details of all people at risk — Massachusetts is doing this, as is Germany, Jens Spahn, the German Health Minister explained to CNN on April 16.
With technology: it can be effective if all people who need to join do join. Otherwise it just doesn’t do the job, as is the case with most bluetooth solutions:
Example 1: a person fears losing her/his job, and decides to leave the phone at home, even knowing that she/he could be or is infected.
Example 2: a person to whom the bluetooth-based app tells that she/he was in contact with an infected person, decides not to get tested because she/he believes to know how to avoid infecting other people.
Example 3: a person to whom the bluetooth-based app tells that she/he was in contact with an infected person, decides not to get tested because she/he believes that because of a young age she/he can get over Covid as with a flu.
There is no “human” or technological solution that preserves the total anonymization of the data and fulfills with effectivity, as is required by the Covid-19 virus, two tasks: alert people and track down all those at risk.
If data — such as contact details — are anonymous, par excellence, people at risk cannot be traced
5. Three basic conditions to ease of lift lockdowns
Many articles or debates fail to mention three conditions that need to happen to move from Phase I of the pandemic — generalized lockdowns — to Phase II — case-based follow-ups:
a. that cases and clusters are reduced to the point that contact tracing and tracking within that population can be comprehensive and granular,
b. that there is a methodology, whether “human” or technological, to monitor the contagion dynamics with negligible margins of ineffectiveness,
c. that controlling bodies have the manpower to do the tracing, tracking and monitoring of all potentially infected people.
Please note: I am not touching here upon the usefulness of apps or other technology solutions to map or track the general evolution of the pandemic for epidemiological research purposes, such as per regions, time, intensity, etc. There are many out there, among which the ones launched recently by Google and Apple, but this requires an expertise I do not pretend to have.