With the novel coronavirus still at large, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “contact tracing,” and you probably know the basic idea behind it. The technique is being used worldwide, with countries including Taiwan and New Zealand crediting the technique for helping contain the spread of COVID-19.
Government agencies throughout the U.S. are expected to hire hundreds of thousands of people as contact tracers. Your agency may be considering starting its own program. So what do you need to consider? How do you get the program going? A useful way to begin is by getting clear answers to five basic questions:
1. So what is contact tracing?
Very simply, contact tracing involves tracking down and contacting anyone who has been in recent contact with someone recently diagnosed with an infectious disease. Once these individuals are contacted, the agency in charge of the program can request that they self-quarantine so that their health can be monitored.
The goal, of course, is to control the spread of the pathogen. Contact tracing is a proven, well-established approach that has been used successfully worldwide in order to fight dangerous diseases such as Ebola and, more recently, COVID-19.
2. What kind of information is contact tracing looking for?
Names and contact information of the people who might have been exposed to the pathogen. In the case of the novel coronavirus, epidemiologists say that is typically two or three others. The data that is being gathered includes how quickly and where people were exposed — whether out in public or at home.
3. Who uses contact tracing information?
Any agency at any governmental level tasked with preventing or at least controlling the spread of an infectious disease. This usually includes health departments, though other agencies or government staffers may be part of a local COVID-19 team.
4. How is contact tracing information used?
Carefully. The agency overseeing a contact tracing program will be using this information to get in touch with people who might have been infected with the novel coronavirus. This information has to be reliable. No agency wants to cause undue worry in its community. It also wants to avoid contacting people who haven’t actually been exposed. That would cause citizens to distrust the program, which is something no agency can afford.
What’s more, the agency has to be sure that this sensitive information will be kept secure. There are plenty of instances of fraudsters who pose as contact tracers in order to pry other information from people, such as social security numbers and even bank account access.
5. Why is contact tracing important?
As demonstrated in Taiwan and New Zealand, the technique works. Needless to say, it’s not the only way to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus or any pathogen, for that matter. With COVID-19, hand washing, social distancing, and mask usage remain crucial weapons in the fight. But so does isolation. For this reason, identifying the potential spread of the virus quickly and taking appropriate steps is a priority.
6. Another key question: How do you get started?
The basic idea behind contact tracing is simple. But as you’d probably note based on your own experience, the kind of data gathering and database management it requires is highly complicated. And the departments that need to be involved might already be stretched to the limit. Given the complexity and effort required, effective contact tracing relies on technology to connect all the dots. What’s more that technology must be easy to learn and to use.
There is such a tool. Thomson Reuters Contact Trace is a cloud-based case management application from Thomson Reuters that’s designed to help government organizations efficiently manage case investigations, contact tracing activities, and contact follow-up. It collects and analyzes state and federal data compiled via Thomson Reuters CLEAR public records technology, in order to quickly and accurately find people who might have been in contact an infected individual. The platform brings together all the contact information in a single customized dashboard so that it’s easy for contact tracing personnel to get in touch with the right people.
What’s more, Thomson Reuters Contact Trace keeps this sensitive information safe from cyber-thieves.
It’s uncertain, of course, how long U.S. government agencies will need to battle the novel coronavirus. But success elsewhere on the globe has shown that a well-organized contact tracing program can help prevent its spread. If you’re researching how your agency can establish an effective contact tracing program, start by scheduling a demo of Thomson Reuters Contact Trace.
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