COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint

Part 4: "Contact tracing for COVID-19: Assessing needs, using a tailored approach"
(Jun 2, 2020)

Part 3: "Smart testing for COVID-19 virus and antibodies" (May 20, 2020)

Part 2: "Effective COVID-19 crisis communication" (May 6, 2020)

Part 1: "The future of the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned from pandemic influenza" (Apr 30, 2020)

Welcome to "COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint." Our intent with the Viewpoint series is to add key information regarding the pandemic, address issues that haven't garnered the attention they deserve, and reflect the unique expertise among the CIDRAP team and our expert consultants.

In this series of reports we will address timely issues with straight talk and clarity. And the steps we recommend will be based on our current reality and the best available data. Our goal is to help planners envision some of the situations that might present themselves later this year or next year so that they can take key steps now, while there’s still time.

Upcoming reports will address contact tracing, surveillance, supply chains, epidemiologic issues, key areas for research, and other pressing topics. We will release reports every 1 to 2 weeks.

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In the fourth Viewpoint report, published June 2, 2020, "Contact tracing for COVID-19: Assessing needs, using a tailored approach," CIDRAP and non-CIDRAP experts note that, like other pandemic response tools, must be done strategically, with the end goal always in mind and any constraints factored in and hurdles worked through.

Traditional contact tracing usually includes in-person notification of the contact by a public health official who arranges for treatment, preventive therapy, and isolation and quarantine as indicated by exposure or infectious status. Contact tracing is most effective when the incidence of infection in a population is low and when cases and contacts can quickly be identified.

In the report, CIDRAP raises several major questions that state and local health departments, with support and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, need to address as more states embark on implementing contact tracing for COVID-19, keeping in mind that a “one-size-fits-all” approach would not be in the best interest of public health.

 Key questions:

  •  Is there a sufficient benefit to widespread contact tracing for COVID-19 to justify the cost?
  • What are the key public health lessons we can learn from this effort?
  • How effective will quarantine measures be for contacts?
  • What is the role of technological tools, such as apps, in contact tracing, and how can privacy concerns be adequately addressed?
  • What are the potential adverse impacts of widespread contact tracing?

CIDRAP also recommends several measures that states should implement as soon as possible, as COVID-19 community transmission in the United States is ongoing and may accelerate as states ease their physical distancing constraints.

”We urgently need to determine the effectiveness of contact tracing efforts and what their role should as part of our COVID-19 prevention activities.” said Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., CIDRAP director. In addition, he emphasized the importance of determining how digital technology can be used in contact tracing.