Why many favor traditional contact-tracing approach over digital tech

Public health leaders, big technology companies and state governments have launched COVID-19 contact tracing efforts to help battle the pandemic.

While technology can make the process more efficient, some experts prefer the traditional manual approach, which requires calling individuals who test positive for COVID-19 as well as the network of people they have come in contact with.

"There is a large camp emerging that is arguing in favor of the traditional shoe-leather, resource-intensive approach to contact tracing," John Brownstein, MD, chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, told ABC News. "Get a list of a patient's contacts, call those people that were potentially exposed and monitor their symptoms."

Doing things the old fashioned way could require hiring around 300,000 additional workers nationwide. New York City has already hired 1,000 healthcare workers to track the spread of COVID-19; these individuals are connecting with people diagnosed with COVID-19 and obtaining their contacts as well as assessing their need for isolation or quarantine support.

Google and Apple have launched an initiative for contact tracing through smartphones while Facebook and Carnegie Mellon have teamed up to trace the spread through surveys. Both initiatives depend on individuals opting into the smartphone app or survey, and many Americans are wary of submitting their data to these companies.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, Americans would be more willing to share their information for contact tracing with initiatives led by the government than big tech companies. Sixty-three percent said they would download the app if their local health department managed it, and 62 percent said they would download an app managed by the CDC. On the other hand, only 31 percent said they would be willing to download an app managed by private tech companies, including Apple and Google.

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