We’ve managed to avoid overwhelming the health system in most places in the initial wave of COVID-19 infections. The novel coronavirus is not gone, however, and that means putting out flareups to avoid another round of economic shutdowns. Contact tracing is the way to do that. If a person tests positive for COVID-19, officials can inform others with whom that person has interacted that they might need testing or self-isolation. This helps prevent rapid viral spreading before it gets out of control. As such, states and cities have employed tens of thousands of contact tracers. In theory, using a smartphone app for contact tracing would be much more efficient and effective, but there are a lot of reasons that might not be the case in the US.
Apps Around the World
Dozens of countries have adopted an official contact tracing app. In most places, downloading the official app is voluntary. But with large, highly populated countries China and India making it mandatory, much of the world’s population is required to do electronic contact tracing. Turkey requires anyone testing positive to download the official app.
Some have opted for apps using Bluetooth, while others have found location data to be more reliable. Some destroy collected data after a set period of time, while others keep it on hand indefinitely.
There are lots of differences in how these apps function, but the basic premise is the same. Anyone who has the app will be alerted if someone who tests positive got within a prescribed distance—in most cases 1.5 meters (approx. 5 feet)— really if their phones got within that distance of each other. The person receiving the alert can then get tested or self-isolate in an attempt to avoid spreading the virus further.
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