How healthcare is using tech to accelerate COVID-19 contract tracing 

Contact tracing, or the process of identifying people who have been exposed to an infectious disease, is being accelerated by data tracking technologies.

Public health experts claim that contact tracing, along with widespread testing, is needed for the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic once the economy reopens and patient surges slow, according to STAT. The initiative will help further reduce the spread of COVID-19 by identifying individuals who need to remain in isolation.

Hospitals, universities, public health departments and even tech giants Apple and Google have begun to roll out technologies and initiatives in support of contact tracing. Last week, Google and Apple partnered to help health agencies track the spread of COVID-19 using Bluetooth technology. The companies plan to release application programming interfaces in May that will support interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities that track people who have come in contact with patients who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

At Rochester, Minn.-based Mayo Clinic, a team of more than 230 IT specialists, clinicians and engineers built an electronic system that combines medical records, non-clinical data and contact tracing resources to identify employee exposures.

The digital toolset, which identifies and notifies staff of COVID-19 exposures within an average of two hours of a confirmed case, is key to helping flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, according to Laura Breeher, MD, medical director of Mayo Clinic Occupational Health Services.

"Contact tracing helps us quickly identify employees that are exposed," Dr. Breeher said. "We can take those who have had medium or high-risk exposures out of the hospital setting, so that if they develop COVID-19 during the following 14 days there is zero risk of them exposing patients or other coworkers."

In California, the San Francisco public health department established a task force of researchers and medical students from UC San Francisco to trace interactions of people who tested positive for COVID-19 via an online app. The group will send daily text messages to people who have potentially been exposed to check in and monitor whether they have developed symptoms of the disease.  

UC Irvine researchers created a free smartphone app, dubbed TrackCOVID, which develops an anonymous graph of interactions by pooling user data every time an individual gathers with others or goes to a public place. App users can log their interactions and "checkpoints", or places visited, and the app anonymously links users' interactions as they congregate in the same places over time. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 can anonymously report it through the app, which will notify users who may be at risk of exposure based on the graph of interactions. 

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