Now Isn't the Time to Abandon Contact Tracing

All sorts of memories are being triggered by the rise of the Delta variant. There was the anxiety that accompanied the first Covid wave in spring 2020 and the devastating winter surge. Then there was the debate over non-pharmaceutical interventions like masking or distancing. And then there were the worries about children and schools. It hasn't brought back discussion of contact tracing which was one of the best ways to contain the pandemic in its early days.
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Many times contact tracing was declared dead before. The New York Times reported that Covid-19 was failing in many states four and a quarter months after it was first identified in the US. It was indeed, even though failing to stop the pandemic is what it means. It seems that the pandemic has disappeared almost completely one year later as the country faces another deadly wave. Earlier this summer, a Covid-19 viewpoint in JAMA titled Beyond Tomorrow sketched out four possible outcomes for SARS-CoV-2elimination, containment, cohabitation, and conflagration. The article did not mention contact tracing. Covid endgame articles in July, August and STAT by reporters who have been at the forefront of coronavirus coverage said nothing about contact tracing's role in closing the pandemic.

The media attention that it has received has been negative. A Kaiser Health News article described contract workers and the public feeling fatigued by Delta surge. It noted that contact tracing appears to have been abandoned. It was noted that there are fewer people in Texas and Arkansas who can alert people about the virus and offer advice on how to isolate them. A new Texas budget prohibits all state funding for contact trace.

A survey conducted by NPR and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security found that many states were reducing their contact tracing efforts in June, right before Delta was the dominant strain in the US. However, just like social distancing and masking are making a comeback, so must contact tracing. The world's latest virus variant will need the support of one of the oldest health practices. It is credited with helping to end smallpox and SARS-1 and has been used over the years along with various vaccines and treatments to control tuberculosis and other STDs. Contact tracing cannot be ignored as the nation struggles to contain yet another wave.

Contact tracing has struggled since the beginning of the pandemic. It was too late. Emily Gurley, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, created an online course to train contact tracers. There have been more than a million signups around the globe. The spring 2020 was the first time that state and local health officials started to prepare. However, they were hindered by a lack of readily available testing. Subjects who were not sick went unrecognized and their contacts weren't informed. Government efforts to track down contact tracers have fluctuated over time. They slowed at times when contact tracers were required to vaccination efforts. Incidence dropped during these welcome lows.

There are many privacy concerns regarding the methods used to trace contact information in this pandemic. WIRED reported that the US has seen a lot of failure in using apps to track contact information. People complain about receiving pingdemicgetting notifications via a widely-used app. This is because it is so sensitive that people in the next block might receive a message, even though they have never been in the same space as the infected person. According to The Washington Post 690,000 people received isolation notices in England and Wales within a week. Businesses complained that workers couldn't leave the office because they were too busy staying home. Let's just say that the apps are still in development.