- Published: April 19, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed some of these ideas in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. I’ll repost here:
We keep hearing the words, “contact tracing.” Can you just explain how that works? Because that feels crazy to me that you can trace a person’s movements over the course of several days.
Yeah. So, to do it over several days gets really problematic, because particularly when people move around a lot, because for every single case, if you got to trace 800 people, then you’ve got a problem. Because you probably don’t have the man power to do it. A somewhat practical contact tracing is if someone goes to a meeting, or a class and goes back home two days later, and winds up having documented coronavirus disease, what you would want to do is to see when the person was in this classroom, or in this theater, or in this club. Who were the people that that person was in contact within six feet for more than like 10 or 15 minutes? You can’t be contact tracing everybody that happens to be, you know, in a movie theater when someone is there, because that would be ridiculous. It would be logistically impossible. But you know that the closer you are to a person, and the longer the duration of time with a respiratory illness, that’s a greater chance of your being infected. So, for example, I work at the NIH. If I went to a lab meeting that had 15 people in it, and I went back the next day, two days later, and I was sick, we would get everybody who was in that meeting, particularly those that were sitting next to me, and you would definitely get them to either be tested or to be isolated for 14 days.
Google and Apple are saying they’re going to develop technology to trace this via mobile phone. Do you think that’s a good idea? Have you consulted with them on how to develop those products?
I haven’t personally consulted with them. But one of the sticky, sticky issues about that is that there is a lot of pushback in this country to get someone or some organization—particular if it’s sponsored by the federal government, I think they’d feel better about it if it’s private—to have by GPS somebody know where you were and when you were there. Even though from a purely public health standpoint, that makes sense. You know, you could look at somebody’s cell phone, and say, “You were next to these 25 people over the last 24 hours.” Boy, I gotta tell you the civil liberties-type pushback on that would be considerable. Even though from a pure public health standpoint, it absolutely makes sense.
And an article on some of the efforts South Korea is using to track citizens’ movements using their smartphones: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-southkorea-respons/ahead-of-the-curve-south-koreas-evolving-strategy-to-prevent-a-coronavirus-resurgence-idUSKCN21X0MO