One year ago, I was trying to understand how COVID-19 was spreading, and that’s the first time I heard the term “contact tracing”. It’s not new, in fact, contact tracing is regularly used when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, and in recent years to monitor the measles outbreak in New York. This virus, like many other pathogens, spreads from one person to another, referred to as transmission. If you wear a mask you’re not necessarily protecting yourself, rather, you’re protecting those around you because COVID-19 infected persons are not always apparent: there are asymptomatic carriers, people that have the virus who do not show any symptoms. The way to keep track of how this virus transmits from one individual to another is by following the path along which it has been transferred, tracing the contacts of infected people, contact tracing.
The WHO, CDC, and other health authorities state that the average symptom onset is 5-6 days, up to 14 days, and that symptoms are now being found to last for more than a month. In that first 14 days is when you can transmit the virus without having any symptoms yourself, which is why the quarantine recommendation is 14 days. I don’t remember where I heard this but in all the people I spoke to, all the YouTube videos I watched, and all the articles I read, one thing that stood out to me was the weight of personal responsibility. In order to stop the global spread of this virus, it is up to the INDIVIDUAL to stay vigilant, wearing masks, washing hands, keeping physically distant. It was said to me, “if you can’t remember every single person you’ve come into contact with, where, and when, in the last 14 days, should you have gone and done all the things you’ve done?”
Remember every single person??? Thinking about this, I knew, in my pre-covid life, I couldn’t even remember all the people I came into contact with each day. We are so intertwined with our communities, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, it is nearly impossible to remember every in-person interaction. And now we have this plague ravaging the globe and the number one way to stop it is to keep people away from one another? This is where contact tracing comes into play.
Simply put, keep track of all those people you see in person. Our memories can’t do it, so do we write it all down? Do we download apps to keep track? Remember, the responsibility is on us, we can talk about testing and vaccinations but there are countries, like Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, China, and South Korea are well on their way back to “normal” lives, because of their diligence with contact tracing and before vaccines were approved. In some cases the governments stepped in and said, we’re going to track where everyone is at all times so that we can get everyone with the virus into quarantine as quickly as possible.
“The process is riddled with holes. It’s slow and passive — you wait until someone’s tested positive to get the information — and it relies on human memory to conjure up details over 14 days such as how many people did I stand by in the grocery store and how long was I in that line, whom did I meet with and who did I discuss things with,” says Jennifer D. Oliva, JD, an associate professor of law at Seton Hall University School of Law in Jersey City, NJ.
Who is going to take on this burden? If we think about it, we give permissions to track our location to every app we download on our phone so you would think that it wouldn’t be a problem. If Candy Crush knows where I am at all times, why can’t health authorities, especially if it’s going to help save lives? When people fear they may be judged for their decisions is when they tend to be less cooperative, impeding the process, not answering their phones, etc. Location-based apps always know where you are, Bluetooth-based apps chew up battery life, proximity apps tend to over-include people (through walls or in separate cars), and none of these include those without smartphones.
To top it all off, none of these apps protect your information through the same government or insurance privacy policies. The Canadian Government uses an app to track close contacts however, if users don’t agree to the terms, if they don’t allow the app location and notification permissions, it becomes useless very quickly. So you can see that the use of technology is a bit controversial, tech companies have been developing apps to try and help with contact tracing but it can become a slippery slope.
So how do we do this? How do we take responsibility for our own possible transmission? Businesses often take matters into their own hands and simply write down the name and phone number of each customer or visitor, that way, at the very least, they have some idea of who they need to contact should a COVID case arise.
There are 3 steps to contact tracing:
- Identifying close contacts: this includes partners, household members, and anyone coming within six feet for more than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period. (Either as a single exposure or multiple shorter than 15 min. exposures.) Note: a person not wearing a mask, or coughing, increases the risk of exposure.
- Contacting close contacts: the person responsible for contact tracing should call or text each person considered to be at risk for infection. For minimal exposure (someone without symptoms) advice may include monitoring for symptoms and calling back if any develop. For greater exposure, a 14-day quarantine or COVID testing may be advised. Note: please follow local guidelines and health authorities for the most up-to-date procedures.
- Follow-up: after a few days, the contact tracer should call back to confirm that no symptoms have developed, and be able to answer any questions that may arise, pointing to local health authorities and legislation. If this person presents with COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive, this process begins again.
Now that you know how it works, here’s what you can do to keep yourself, your family, and your coworkers and customers safe. Monitor who you come into contact with, write down the date and time, their names, and their phone number or email address. This includes anyone spending more than 15 minutes within 6 feet (2 meters) of yourself or your employees. Lots of businesses that have the potential for close contact have now been asking COVID-related screening questions, including asking whether or not the individual has new or worsening symptoms. (An example of these questions can be found here, please check with local health authorities for the most up-to-date questions). Then delete or shred the information after 21 days so as to not be held responsible for private information.
Refinery Lab has a simple solution for businesses. We can provide a simple QR code allowing customers, employees, and other contacts to scan the code and fill out their information. The form will track the date, time, and location of the close contact event and users will be able to provide their name and contact information. In the event of an exposure, we will provide you with a list of all contacts within the given time period so that you can contact and inform them. All private information will be stored securely and will be deleted 21-days after the contact event so as to protect private information. Contact us today and we’ll help you set up a FREE contact tracing tool for your business.