The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) Director Vivian Singletary, JM, MBA, is a guest on PHII’s Inform Me, Informatics podcast to talk about how exciting new digital tools are helping track the spread of COVID-19 by enhancing traditional contact tracing methods.
Contact tracing is a key tool to track and stop infectious diseases. It occurs when public health authorities identify people who have been in contact with someone with a disease so they can test, treat, or quarantine as needed.
At the start of the pandemic, technology companies started building digital tools to aid contact tracing but looked to PHII for public health insight to bridge gaps between public health protocols and technology solutions.
With their vast expertise in health data systems, PHII convened public health officials and technology leaders to landscape digital contact tracing tools and identify opportunities. The goal was two-fold: to develop guidance that assists public health professionals’ understanding of the current marketplace of digital tools and to ensure technology experts understood public health privacy needs and standards as they built these tools.
At the outcome, PHII published a consumer report with a landscape analysis of digital tools to guide public health authorities’ decisions on their COVID-19 surveillance. As a part of this effort, PHII also produced guidance for public health authorities on exposure notification technology being developed by Google and Apple. The idea of the Google-Apple technology was simple: users could choose to enable their smartphones to exchange anonymous codes via Bluetooth with nearby phones. If someone later tested positive for COVID-19, they could enter a code and the other phones would get an anonymous notification that there had been a possible exposure.
The notice would provide information on what to do but would not provide details on when the potential exposure happened. PHII provided guidance to support public health authorities’ decisions on whether to build an exposure notification app that uses Apple and Google’s technology. As of December 2020, public health authorities in more than 50 countries, states and regions had launched exposure notification systems using the Google-Apple technology.
Listen to the podcast above to hear more about how this technology is providing essential COVID-19 surveillance.