The Ins and Outs of Contact Tracing

Of course right off, a system that is going to require issuing subpoenas in order to coerce eventual cooperation may, just may, not work well.

But beyond that, I am not sure how much even many strong contact trace/test/quarantine advocates (not usually Big Brother-phobic) will be supportive of the state using such coercive power to force people to talk and to name names, potentially inclusive of those who do not it known by whoever that they were at a specific party or seeing specific people.

This “respect my authoritah” approach is ill-advised and even thinking of going there bodes poorly.

Another update.

Seems like a lot of work. I would hope that there’s some amount of information they can divulge without you verifying all kinds of info, for just this reason. Even if they could ID themselves and let you know that someone that tested positive gave us this phone number and that they’re requesting that you self-quarentine until you can get a negative test result (or something like that).

In my city, the mayor has been mentioning on facebook that if the health dept calls you have to pick up and talk to them. Which, of course, is met with loads of people explaining that they really don’t pick up their phone for anyone these days…hopefully they leave a message.

Another one I noticed was a thing going around facebook with instructions to delete some “covid” tracking app. These things are always floating around on facebook so I didn’t give it much thought until one of my FB friends said this secret app was really there. I looked, sure enough “COVID-19 exposure notifications”, right there in the list.
A few minutes of looking online explains how it works. In short, it uses bluetooth to look for other phones that also have the app. When it finds one, the log the time/date, possibly the length of time exposed, and some type of identifier. If someone gets a positive diagnosis and they tell the app, the app will alert the other phones that were in close proximity to yours. In theory, it’s anonymous, logging only some type of ID so it can send out alerts. If it really is, I don’t know.

Naturally people deleted the app as soon as they found it and that’s understandable. I left mine on, it seems like a good idea.

My state has published email and Facebook (and I presume Twitter) statements that if you don’t pick up, they’ll leave a message. I assume one could contact public health directly to confirm the call.

I use a COVID symptom research app from ZOE/Mass General that has a clear privacy policy and does not do proximity alerts. It pings me each morning and typically asks if I have had a COVID test and if I feel okay. Additional questions may then appear (symptoms, test results, or optional additional health questions that are relevant to current research on COVID).

What, asking a question, googling a phone number, and calling it?

Doesn’t seem like a lot of work to me. YMMV.

Sorry, I didn’t mean for any one in specific, just in general. That is, you might do it, I might do it (hell, I google phone numbers while my phone is ringing to decide if I should answer), but overall, most people aren’t going to bother. They’ll ignore the call (or pick up/hang up so a message can’t be left).

I think, if this is something that’s going to continue on for more than, say, a year (contact tracing, not the virus), as cities are telling people they may receive a phone call, they should ask them to put the city’s/heath dept’s phone number into their phone so they know who it is when they call. Or, maybe better yet, ask them to fill out a short form online with their name/address/email address. I’d be more likely to read an email that appeared to be from the city than pick up a phone call from a number I don’t know.

Back in March, I recall hearing about one country (Sweden? Finland?) that did very aggressive contact tracing. They went beyond just calling, they’d send someone out to your house or your work, if they knew where it was. They weren’t screwing around.

Obviously, I don’t know what’s on your particular phone, but that’s not how the Apple/Google exposure notification system is set up. True, the exposure notification setting is there by default as of the last OS update, but it won’t actually do anything without you actively installing an app that takes advantage of that system. Apple will only allow one such app per country/region, and it has to be issued by a certified health authority. Germany introduced one such app a couple of weeks ago, and so far, 15 Million people (out of about 80 Million total) have downloaded it. It does work pretty much how you describe.

This is only one aspect of contact tracing that’s employed in Germany, obviously. Some of the measures taken include leaving your contact details when you visit a restaurant or similar, so the health department knows who was there if there is a confirmed potential for infection. Absent that, the tracing requires a lot of searching around for contact information, losing precious time you don’t have, because that means that infected people can’t be quarantined in time. This also presumes, though, that there is a functioning health department to begin with, and that infection levels are low enough that they can actually keep up with the work. After a certain amount of people, you have to switch strategies to just kind of keep the lid on. In this situation, automated solutions like these apps can hopefully carry some of the weight. It does require some amount of trust in both the government and the framework of Apple/Google, which doesn’t seem to be very high in the US.

So in your city, if I want someone to definitely answer the phone, I should spoof the health dept number in my auto-dialer?