WASHINGTON (AFP) – Taiwan and South Korea have led the world in digital contact search the Covid-19 pandemic – the example of the US with its emphasis on personal privacy and a decentralized government system is impossible to follow.
Instead, states and cities chose to employ thousands of public health workers who had to carry out the difficult task of calling everyone with confirmed cases.
They want to know, in turn, everyone who is closely related to the patient – defined as less than six feet (two meters) – for 15 minutes or more. These people will then be called and asked to quarantine themselves.
This is a tiring job that can complete opt-in cellular phone-based contact tracking, announced by Apple and Google recently. Investigators, who do not need medical training, work from home, use computer software, and each call requires at least half an hour.
Massachusetts was the first to launch the program in early April, announcing it would recruit 1,000 contact tracers (17,000 had applied). San Francisco has announced similar initiatives, and other states and jurisdictions have also begun operations.
“It’s too late,” said Dr. Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer of Partners in Health, a non-profit organization chosen by Massachusetts to manage the program. “It will be easier to do it after the first case.” But it is still possible to catch up, he said. “All epidemics are very localized. If we look at the top row numbers, everyone will be scared. But city by city, block by block, and city by city.”
“If we can do it in a place like Liberia, how can we not do it in Massachusetts?” Mukherjee added.
In Africa and other parts of the world this type of work is considered one of the basic principles of public health.
But, Mukherjee said, “for 40 years, the US has invested in public health and public health for the sake of hospitals, and what kind of things generate income.”
In Wuhan, 1,800 teams of five did this work, often voluntarily. Considering that until the US split, 265,000 people were needed.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggest 100,000 to begin with “to assist in the task of investigating and holding contacts that are enormous and unprecedented on this scale.” The country is currently, at most, only 5,000 specialists responsible for monitoring cases of infectious diseases such as HIV or tuberculosis, Michael Fraser, head of the Association of State Officials and Regional Health Officers (ASTHO), told AFP.
He did not expect recruitment to begin before two to four weeks in most states.
“Our goal is to prepare this for reopening,” he said.
Only on Monday (April 20) the White House, through Vice President Mike Pence, announced the sending of reinforcements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to each state.
In an email to AFP, the CDC said it had sent 24 teams to each state, with more than 600 staff throughout the country.
But countries like Texas plan to start reducing their lock orders in the coming days, reopening some shops and businesses.
The state of Lone Star, home to nearly 30 million people, will need at least 8,000 contact trackers, ASTHO estimates.
“There will definitely be some risks” associated with lifting social distance orders without having an appropriate monitoring mechanism, Fraser warned.
That is to say there is no need to improve contact tracing as more social activity continues.
In the absence of sufficient personnel, more risk groups such as nursing homes, hospitals and vulnerable populations must be prioritized.
When people are called in Massachusetts, the state has reached an agreement with telecommunications operators to display the “Covid Care Team” on Caller ID, to try to maximize the number of people who take it.
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