Could contact tracing bring the US out of lockdown?

“experts in contact tracing, and also in infectious disease, have forever believed and argued that contact tracing does not work with a respiratory disease. And the reason experts told us that contact tracing would not work with respiratory diseases is that respiratory diseases spread too easily — air is a lot easier to come into contact with than someone else’s blood — and that they also spread too quickly. So from the get-go, this country has not even attempted to do serious contact tracing. We didn’t try it in the first cases in the state of Washington. We didn’t try it after cases appeared in California, [we] certainly have not tried it since cases appeared on the East Coast. And in addition, contact tracing is immensely laborious. You need an army of thousands of people to do it.”

“In South Korea, in particular, in Singapore, both of which had very, very early cases, not surprising given their proximity to China, that’s what they did. Those countries did contact tracing. It worked. And suddenly that opened the eyes of experts who said, no, no, it could never be done.”

” You know, just as with the recognition that face masks actually can help, all sorts of assumptions about respiratory diseases are being rewritten and, in fact, overturned as a result of what we’re seeing in this pandemic.”

“we can have an exit from the very strict social distancing [and] physical distancing that we’ve had for the last month and a half. You know, whether it’s the governors talking about how to figure this out, testing and contact tracing is at the center of all of those plans. And the sequence is, test, in other words, you have to identify people who carry the virus, trace their contacts, you isolate people, and you hope that works.”

“there’s not going to be a vaccine in this calendar year.”

“here’s the problem. As we were saying earlier in the experts’ objection to contact tracing for a respiratory virus, it has to be done fast. On average, to identify a person’s contacts — just to identify them, let alone to track them down — takes something like 12 hours of asking, “Where were you? What were you doing? What was it like there?” So that’s an average.”

“The estimates are that the United States would need at least 100,000 tracers, possibly as many as 300,000. And, of course, we’re going to pay these people and value them and encourage them. So, you know, you’re probably looking at … upwards of 3.6 billion … dollars just to do that. And absolutely, it’s worth it. But that’s the order of magnitude that you’re talking about in terms of effort.”

“The technology that’s being discussed can be basically instantaneous. The way many of these systems would work is, again, you opt-in. And the opting in means that … you would … get an alert saying, “Yes, you came into close contact with someone. We think you should now isolate yourself for 14 days.” If you can get through those two weeks without symptoms, then that casual passing by the person did not infect you. That can be done virtually, instantaneously — certainly, you know, faster than human contact tracers. And the hope is that by doing it that quickly, you can snuff out any transmission chains that might crop up.”

“Singapore, South Korea, they used everything from security camera footage to smartphone tracing. Israel rolled out a system like this. What’s important to remember is that success does not mean zero cases. Success means that we do not have another instance where we overwhelm our hospitals and have the horrible situations that we’ve all seen, in especially New York hospitals. Bottom line, you can have way, way less than 100 percent opt-in and still have a really good chance of catching any incipient new infections after we’re over the current wave.”