The now infamous COVID-19 virus is an infectious respiratory disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus that causes illness in humans. The disease has varying impacts on patients with around 80 percent of infected persons developing mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalisation. That being said, about 1 in every 5 people who get Covid-19 develop serious illness and difficulty in breathing. There’s no Covid-19 vaccine at the moment, which is why healthcare authorities are focusing on limiting the spread of the deadly virus. One of the most effective ways to control outbreaks and the spread of infectious diseases is through contact tracing. According to the World Health Organization, contact tracing is the process used by governments and medical authorities to identify, assess, and manage people who have been exposed to infectious disease and prevent further transmission. When done manually, the government must hire thousands of people to trace the spread of the virus and find new infections.

Contact Tracing Apps

Thanks to advancements in technology, there’s no need for manual contact tracing. In the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, contact tracing apps have emerged to enhance conventional contact tracing methods. They are faster, more efficient, and cost-effective compared to their manual counterparts. In countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Australia, the apps are helping authorities track the spread of the disease, find new infections, and support the reopening of their economies. Contact tracing apps seek to notify individuals that have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for the newly discovered coronavirus. In the context of Covid-19, close contact is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before illness’ onset until the individual is isolated. After receiving notification, such individuals will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, get tested, and if need be, get treatment.

When done manually, contact tracing may help limit Covid-19 transmission when the first cases are identified within an area. But given the speed of transmission of the new coronavirus, the number of contacts needing follow-up can be expected to increase rapidly if sustained community transmission occurs. In this case, manual contact tracing becomes highly resource-intensive and almost impossible to pull off. That’s where contact tracing apps come in. Contact tracing apps automate the whole process. The use of contact tracing apps to limit the spread of Covid-19 has been fairly successful in some parts of the world. We have seen the successful implementation of contact tracing apps in some countries. In Singapore, authorities are using a contact tracing app that detects other users close by via the exchange of Bluetooth signals between mobile devices. Back in February, South Korea was battling the worst Covid-19 outbreaks outside China. Thanks to contact tracing apps, the virus is now under control.

Privacy Concerns

Contact tracing apps have been fundamental in containing the spread of Covid-19. On the flip side, the use of contact tracing technology raises privacy issues. Recent research on contact-tracing apps found that three-quarters of the population believe that contact-tracing apps violate a person’s privacy. However, 59% of Americans indicated a willingness to forgo some of their rights for the sake of public health. The vast majority of Americans fear that the prevalence of contact tracing apps put them at risk of mass surveillance in the long term.

Contact tracing apps can be very effective when it comes to keeping the spread of Covid-19 under control. However, due to concerns about privacy, the implementation of these apps in the United States could be difficult. Some states have already decided to do away with contact tracing apps and go the traditional way. People are worried that the government will overstep its boundaries with these apps, but most are still willing to download contact tracing apps for the greater good.