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Contact Tracing Solutions Can Help Monitor Individuals Who Have Contracted or Have Been Exposed to COVID-19

How well can we expect mobile tracking applications to help manage pandemics?

Contact Tracing Solutions Can Help Monitor Individuals Who Have Contracted or Have Been Exposed to COVID-19
Mobile App contact tracing adopted by national governments to stop Covid-19 pandemic smartboy10/iStock

Syndromic Surveillance is the process of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting health-related data in order to provide an early warning of public health threats, which require immediate public health action. Syndromic Surveillance can be carried out through various mobile applications. These applications are used to track and trace individuals potentially infected with a virus. 

Public Health England, for instance, is using real-time Syndromic Surveillance to issue weekly summaries highlighting changes in the number of people visiting GPs, going to emergency departments, and calling NHS 111. According to Public Health England, they "collect and analyze anonymized health data from several sources, looking for trends indicating higher-than-usual levels of illness and publish bulletins to keep public health professionals up-to-date." 

Also according to Public Health England, "monitoring patterns in phone calls to the NHS 111 service each day across England, to track the spread of infectious diseases like flu and norovirus," which they examine on a daily basis, can provide early warnings of community-based infectious diseases. 

In other words, Syndromic Surveillance is defined as "an investigational approach where health department staff, assisted by automated data acquisition and generation of statistical alerts, monitor disease indicators in real-time, or near real-time to detect outbreaks of disease earlier than would otherwise be possible with traditional public monitoring."

Syndromic Surveillance has recently been a popular subject of conversation as well as being discussed during online conferences I have recently attended. The current popularity of the topic is due to the ongoing interest of more governments to track infections such as COVID-19 with the aim to reduce its rate of spread. But at what cost? Are governments trying to get citizens used to mass surveillance even when civil liberties groups in some cases question the lack of transparency of such practice? 

Contact tracing and case management solution to help governments monitor individuals who have contracted or have been exposed to Covid-19

In Lithuania, a new world-wide availability of a Contact Tracing and Case Management technology, built on the industry-standard WebEOC platform claims to offer the highest control around privacy standards. The new technology is designed to help governments, public health departments, and healthcare systems address the complexity of tracking and following up with individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19, or are confirmed to have contracted the disease and are able to self-quarantine at home.

The company behind the solution is Juvare, a leader in critical incident preparedness and response technology. Juvare’s Contact Tracing and Case Management solution was developed alongside The National Public Health Center under the Ministry of Health of Lithuania to scale to accommodate large populations and integrate seamlessly into the critical technological infrastructure of government entities.

 According to the Juvare, they are in the business of helping government agencies, corporations, higher education institutions, and other organizations prepare for and respond to critical incidents of all kinds. "However, Covid-19 is unlike any critical incident the world has ever seen," said Robert Watson, CEO of Juvare in a statement.

According to Watson, with the new solution the company is ready to apply their experience to deliver solutions in order to help government agencies such as The National Public Health Center under the Ministry of Health of Lithuania, as well as over 50 U.S. federal agencies which Juvare supports in their efforts to respond, recover, and move forward. 

Contact track and tracing: How it works

The solution allows for remote monitoring through in-person, telephone, or mobile application data entry. Pre-configured workflows for data entry simplify the process of collecting information about the point of exposure, risk factor, and symptoms, as well as details about subsequent interactions, contact information, demographics, family profile, and the quarantine period, according to Juvare.

Automated reminders to perform regular check-in calls to update records can be scheduled and assigned for ongoing case management. The solution supports both manual entry and direct interfaces with testing laboratories.

The solution allows for remote monitoring through in-person, telephone, or mobile application data entry. Pre-configured workflows for data entry simplify the process of collecting information about the point of exposure, risk factor, and symptoms, as well as details about subsequent interactions, contact information, demographics, family profile, and the quarantine period.

Automated reminders to perform regular check-in calls to update records can be scheduled and assigned for ongoing case management. The solution supports both manual entry and direct interfaces with testing laboratories.

Affected individuals can self-report on a daily basis by answering a series of questions on a mobile application. The mobile device’s GPS can also be used to establish geo-fencing and locational tracking in accordance with applicable regulations.

Contact Tracing and Case Management information may be presented in an organized dashboard format, making high-risk conditions easy to identify and address. Color-coded, or otherwise flagged statuses facilitate ongoing case management and encourage quick response to critical conditions, such as a significant change in symptoms that might require hospitalization. Users can also drill down into details regarding the person, their test results and also their outcome.

According to Juvare, the Contact Tracing and Case Management solution is the latest in the line of emergency preparedness and response technology that have been used for past outbreak response efforts including: H1N1 (Swine Flu), H5N9 (Avian Flu), Ebola (EVD), and the SARS outbreak. Now COVID-19 is just being added to the list. 

COVID-19 tracking applications rise privacy concerns

tracing covid-19 or pricacy
Coronavirus tracking app rise privacy concerns /Source: Firn/ iStock 

Coronavirus tracking applications have triggered privacy concerns among citizens who believe that they are being forced to make a choice between downloading the application and using it, or their privacy. 

According to Apple, Google, and governments, the use of these applications is going to be an opt-in tool. However, if that is true, how many individuals are going to be willing to download the application? And how many need to download the application in order to make it a useful and valuable tool that actually works? 

At least 80 percent of people have to download the application onto their smartphones for this to be effective. In countries where surveillance is in general accepted without too many objections, such as Singapore, the adoption rate of an application called TraceTogether, which was deployed at an early stage in the pandemic, was only 13 percent at the start.

Most recently, and according to Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan's Facebook post on the morning of March 23, TraceTogether has been installed by more than 620,000 users so far. As of May 27, there have been 23 COVID-19 related deaths in Singapore, according to Statista. 

In the same post, Balakrishnan said that the TraceTogether was going to be made Open Source, adding: "We believe that making our code available to the world will enhance trust and collaboration in dealing with a global threat that does not respect boundaries, political systems, or economies. Together we can make our world safer for everyone." If the open-sourcing plan goes well, it may inspire more trust. Results will remain to be seen. 

According to MobiHealth News, "TraceTogether works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating TraceTogether users in close proximity. Records of such encounters are stored locally on each user’s phone. If a user is interviewed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) as part of the contact tracing efforts, they can consent to send his/her TraceTogether data to MOH."

In order to add to the efforts, it is worth mentioning that recent research by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution has revealed that air pollution must be curbed in order to avoid a second coronavirus peak.

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