Contact tracing and social distancing apps can ease your worried mind (a little)

contact-tracing-and-social-distancing-apps-can-ease-your-worried-mind-(a-little)

These apps remind you to keep your distance from others and help you retrace your steps if you contract the coronavirus.

As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise, social distancing and contact tracing are more important than ever. Keeping six feet or about one and a half meters between you and the next person in line at the grocery is one easy measure of protection. It’s human nature to draw close to one another during a conversation or even while waiting in line. Crowdless and 1point5 are two apps that will let you know when you get too close to anyone outside your quarantine pod.

For extra peace of mind, you also can download a contact tracing app to your phone. Most of these apps are built in partnership with local or state health agencies, so look for one in your locale. These apps use various methods of tracking your movements. This allows you to retrace your steps if you contract the virus and let other people know if you came in contact with them.

Crowdless



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Image: Crowdless

This app helps users avoid crowded places by using existing, anonymized data sources to track the movements of mobile devices. It combines this information with crowd-sourced data by asking the user to confirm whether or not a location is busy. The app doesn’t store any data or location history. It also complies with GDPR. Crowdless also recruits volunteer community ambassadors to ensure local stores have up-to-date information and to test early versions of new features. 


Google Play and App Store

1point5



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Image: 1point5

The United Nations Technology Innovation Labs built this app to scan nearby mobile devices and warn the app user when a device enters a perimeter of 1.5 meters. The device vibrates to alert using Bluetooth RSSI signal if someone breaches this boundary. The app does not collect personal information. It uses Bluetooth signals to detect the proximity of other users.


Google Play

Trace Together



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Image: Trace Together

Singapore’s Government Technology Agency built this app early on in the pandemic to make contact tracing easy. App users get notified quickly if they have come into contact with people who have contracted the virus. The app uses the BlueTrace protocol to collect and log proximity data between devices that are both using the app. The Bluetooth information stored on phones using the app is automatically deleted after 25 days.


Google Play and App Store

Healthy Together



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Image: Healthy Together Utah

This app from the state of Utah includes a symptom checker, a list of test sites, and advice for what to do after being tested. Users own their data and can delete it at any time. Location data is deleted automatically after 30 days. Users have the option to share data with the state health department to make contact tracing easier.


Google Play and App Store

Crush COVID RI



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Image: State of Rhode Island

The state of Rhode Island built this app to help users track their daily activities and symptoms. The My Location Diary feature uses GPS location data from the phone to track the places a user visited over the past 20 days. All data is stored locally and only shared voluntarily. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, and agrees to share this information with the Rhode Island Department of Health, officials can easily identify places visited and people contacted.

The My Symptom Diary feature is designed to spot potential outbreaks of the virus. Users can share symptoms and provide their ZIP code.


Google Play and App Store

Job alert: Contact tracers needed now

job-alert:-contact-tracers-needed-now

Only 18% of those hired to gather COVID-19 data are well-qualified, despite a demand to fill positions throughout the country.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Due to COVID-19‘s serious swing upward this past weekend, it’s more important than ever to identify high-risk areas. A key method to track the coronavirus, as it wheedles its way across the country, is to gather data from those directly touched by COVID-19. A successful contact tracer needs specific skills; among those, a friendly personality and an understanding of data.

The desperate need to track information on the virus has resulted in plentiful job opportunities, but research shows being a contact tracer is not a job for everyone. Only 18% of contact tracers are well-suited to the job, according to data from Harver, an employee recruitment and training platform. In the rush to bring on much-needed staff, hirers don’t vet well or are as discerning as they might have been. 

Wanted: Empathy and sensitivity

The need to hire so many quickly—an expected eventual 100,000 to 300,000—has produced mixed results. You may not need a college degree to become a contact tracer, but you need the right personality and temperament, as well as a thirst for some detective work. A contact tracer must draw out information while encouraging interviewees to retrace steps and test memories while being situationally sensitive.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Harver just launched a site specifically for those who have an interest in becoming a contact tracer. It is estimated that COVID-19’s trajectory, as well as the real need to gather important information through person-to-person contact, has made the job critical, as well as coveted. 

In April, Harver realized “how critical this job is, and how little people knew about it,” said Ben Porr, Harver vice president, people science. Federal guidance was not as helpful as CDC guidance, which defined the role and duties of a contact tracer working in the midst of the pandemic.

Major hiring ahead

But an element was missing, Porr said, “Who’s successful in it, and how to hire people.” By the beginning of June, Porr said Harver decided, “‘Yes, this is going to be a role that’s growing and not going away,’ and we really did our analysis to develop the assessment.”

Research showed that cities, states, and local governments will be joined by private organizations in the effort to look at the root causes of the coronavirus. This means that each agency will be hiring. 

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Ideal candidate traits

Both social and data skills are key, Porr said, because the interviewees are often distressed. Curiosity is a valued trait, as the job entails investigating. Porr says that Harver identified what makes a very good candidate—”critical thinking skills,” he said. “You’ll be looking at data, but also talking with people. You should be able to analyze information, and draw conclusions.”

Next, he said: “It’s the interpersonal skills and cultural sensitivity, make sure you’re building trust, you’re educating them, you’re showing empathy. Because you’re dealing with people in a very emotional state, from frustration or concern or anger, you want to calm the subject down. So, those interpersonal skills, cultural sensitivity, as well as organization skills [are needed].”

It’s a bit of having the ability to “read the room,” even if the conversation is taking place on the phone, or on the phone or in person. Porr said that it’s difficult to estimate how long each interview will be, but likely, “a half-hour, give or take, 15 minutes.” Lastly, a contact tracer should “be very structured and organized, because you have to follow certain protocols, to make sure you’re asking the right steps and documenting them accurately.”

The ability of the contact tracer “to identify potentially infected individuals quickly is critical,” Porr said, “but [so is] educating the public about quarantining procedures and how the virus spreads. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.” Some people are listening to hoaxes, he said, instead of going by information and guidelines established by the CDC and John Hopkins University, which Haver also uses in its data.

Drawing out details from COVID-19 victims

There won’t be a single script for each contact tracer to use. It will vary, Porr said, based on comprehension, and trust between the contact tracer and subject. A contact tracer should be sensitive and respectful of privacy.

A contact tracer will ask subjects about when they think they might have contacted COVID-19, where they’ve been since, when did symptoms begin, as well as a chronicle of how the illness affected them. Reports offer widely divergent experiences. 

There are certainly more easily defined markers for high-risk, including age, preexisting conditions, auto-immune diseases, a history of tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, but experts have not singled out all the commonalities (effect, duration, etc). 

Finding candidates with all the qualities of an ideal contact tracer is a challenge and sheds light on why so few hired are well-suited. Being bilingual will be a plus. Porr speculated the pay for the job would be about $25/hour. Harver’s new platform provides an assessment, to classify strengths and weaknesses. Employers, too, will be able to fast-track to find candidates.

Contact tracings’ roots

Contact tracing has its roots in tracing epidemics, specifically, the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, but the role has grown in the information age. “The big data aspect of it,” Porr said, is that there are apps that can track people and information on where someone has been can be observed. He added, “very little of the population is using that [now], but you have to be aware of it.” 

“Jogging” an interviewee’s memory, by finding out where they’ve been before becoming infected, may also be critical in gathering the information necessary to paint the entire picture by finding the root of the contraction of COVID-19.

Harver’s new site allows those interested to take assessments to determine how well they’d do as a contact tracer because even though they have the interest, they must also have qualities and traits for a job that—for the ideal candidate—is a combination of detective, interviewer, social worker, critical thinker, and organizer.  But because of the great need, even those who don’t possess every single desired quality have more opportunity to be hired as a contact tracer and learn on the job. 

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