Contact tracing failures, again

Nobody cares. But it still HAS value.

One month ago, I noted the irrelevance of contact tracing in Italy. Now, the news is that there is no news. Here are some new data, this time about the USA, from “Why Aren’t Contact Tracing Apps Working?"

Now, seven months into the U.S. outbreak, the american contact traing landscape looks a lot like the italian one.

Some examples

Contact tracing failures, again /img/no-contact-tracing-in-the-usa-adoption-rate.jpg

Alabama: its contact-tracing app was downloaded only 125K times between in mid-August and late October, that is by 3% of the state’s adult population.

Nevada: two and a half months after its launch, the state contact tracing app has been downloaded by just under 3% of the state’s adult population. Zero exposures were registered in the app throughout the month of September.

Wyoming had less than 5.k downloads, that is 1% of adult population, in late October.

Country-wide, five months after the Google-Apple project launched, apps using their protocol are available to the general public in only 10 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C. Many states have chosen not to launch contact-tracing apps at all.

The reasons? Almost identical to Italy

  • Part of the problem is lack of coordination by the federal government, and of money at local levels.
  • Even states that have contact-tracing apps were initially wary of investing their limited resources in an unproven solution.
  • adoption was slowed by bureaucracies' “lack of tech expertise in making procurement decisions on contact-tracing apps”
  • lack of interest, or trust, in the public, and among health expertst too. People (the same, I guess, who keep googling or asking on Facebook about the pandemic..) fear privacy violations. Experts say there is too much privacy (i.e. no location tracking) to make the apps useful

All in all… there is still value in this contact tracing debacle. A lot

The more I read such stories, from over the world, the more I am convinced of something.

Something I first thoughtin the middle of Italy’s lockdown: the value of all these failures is to make us learn how to do contact tracing right, with the best possible combination of digital and non-digital tools, before the next pandemic arrives. If we are smart, that is.