I met again recently with Tom Luce and Margaret Spellings, leaders of Texas2036. As their web site explains, Texas2036 “offers non-partisan ideas and modern solutions that are grounded in research and data,” with the purpose of facilitating efforts by legislators “to break through the gridlock on issues that matter most to all Texans.” In other words, exactly what we need now. I am confident that Texas2036 will be an invaluable resource and an influential leader in policy development.
Policy Spotlight: Contact-tracing is good for you and for everyone.
The phrase “contact-tracing” may sound new and unfamiliar. It’s not new, it’s just unfamiliar.
Most people recognize that contact-tracing is essential to combating COVID-19 and embrace state and local efforts to expand its scale. Many others, however, fear that contact-tracing will lead to loss of personal privacy and other treasured individual rights. For the most part, their fears are misguided, arising from honest misconceptions about the process (more about the process below).
For decades, the system of test-trace-isolate-support has been employed to protect the public by infectious disease specialists and health systems around the world. They have saved countless lives and avoided untold hardship from various infectious diseases, like tuberculosis, syphilis, and Ebola.
Now we’re doing it to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, prevent loss of life, and to avoid the need for another economy-destroying shutdown. The challenge is how to employ contact-tracing on a mass scale, while being respectful of personal privacy concerns. (It’s regrettable that more resources weren’t devoted to meeting the challenge sooner. We might have dramatically reduced the number of eventual infections, deaths, and the time needed to impose shelter-in-place conditions. But we are where we are.)
In Texas, promising new contact-tracing systems appeared on the scene very recently, through both the State of Texas and Dallas County (outside Dallas county, people should use the state system; Dallas County residents can avail themselves of the County’s excellent new system here). No one has to comply with contact-tracing requests. But for those whose notion of duty to country and regard for fellow Texans inspires them to participate, they will have the option of helping us stop the pandemic.
People who test positive will be notified by their county health department. They then may simply enter into a web portal limited contact information for themselves and for those with whom they’ve recently had close contact (think of it as “contagion close”). The semi-autonomous system then anonymously notifies the close contacts via email that they may have been exposed to the virus, sends them a daily symptom survey, and provides them with helpful information for how to avoid spreading the virus. Contact information will be kept private and used for public health purposes only.
Still nervous about sharing email addresses and phone numbers? Consider that contact-tracing is our best hope for getting ahead of the virus, for stopping the second wave before it happens. It’s our best means to prevent economic devastation and loss of life; it could make this Fall much nicer. Each of us must ask ourselves: is the risk associated with supplying contact information to the public health system really such a big deal in comparison?