How does contact tracing work and why it’s needed for the U.S. to reopen safely

Health News

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The White House is trying to establish a widespread coronavirus contact tracing.

It’s an effort to track down the people to whom the virus might have spread.

Some officials said it’s key to reopening the economy but it’s difficult and expensive.

“This was incredibly painful,” said Amy Driscoll, recovered from COVID-19.

Driscoll said the coronavirus had her in a vice grip that wouldn’t let go for weeks.

“Every breath, every movement, every, you know, raising your arms rolling over in bed, every single thing is painful,” said Driscoll.

Less than two hours after arriving home from the hospital, her phone rang. It was her county’s health department asking lots of questions.

“Who have I seen in the last two weeks? Where was I in the last two weeks? Who was I in contact with? Where do I work?,” said Driscoll.

The health department was doing what is called contact tracing.

“You have to trace every person that comes up positive. Trace means investigate. Investigate all those prior contacts,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY).

Driscoll retraced her steps from the last two weeks.

She went to work and her boss and the staff had to be contacted.

She went to a restaurant for lunch and to her hair salon. They had to be called.

She went to a Cleveland Cavaliers game. All her family members who sat with her were contacted.

This kind of contact tracing is happening across the country and the world.

From those suffering through the deadly COVID-19 outbreak in New York, to those connected to the first major U.S. outbreak in Washington state, to California, the first place where a statewide stay-at-home order was announced.

Experts said without contact tracing and enough testing, America and the world cannot re-open safely.

“We’re going to be at risk of resurgence of this disease, not just in the fall, but going into next year,” said Joshua Michaud, Kaiser Family Foundation.

“So you’re saying, without contact tracing a massive amount, without testing a massive amount, we could find ourselves right back where we started?” asked Sara Sidner, CNN.

“I think we could find ourselves very much at risk of another resurgence,” said Michaud.

But the U.S. does not have enough people to do the tracing.

State health officials estimate there are about 2,000 people doing this work currently but Johns Hopkins University warns we need at least 100,000.

Currently, the contact tracing is only as good as your memory and that is hard.

Before lockdowns, can you remember all the people you had close contact with over a two week period like at the coffee shop, the grocery store, a restaurant, or your child’s school?

That’s where big technology companies like Google and Apple are jumping in.

They will soon have an app you can voluntarily download built with health departments so they can see detailed location data from your cell phone. But the public may be skittish about it due to privacy concerns.

Still, contact tracing requires serious legwork. Los Angeles’ mayor is pushing for federal help.

“We’re probably going to need hundreds of thousands of Americans put to work. It should be funded by the feds, but enacted locally,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

As for Driscoll, her contacts have been found.

She said the health department tells her that none have symptoms so far.

But testing is still a problem.

“I’ve had no additional testing,” said Driscoll.

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