Contact Tracing: The Cogency and the Controversy

While contact tracing can be performed manually, there are a number of worker-safety apps available that will save you time and money.

Chances are very high that your working situation has changed in some since the pandemic hit. That might mean you are now working remotely from a home office—or whatever that may look like for you—or you are working alone and in isolation because of quarantine and social-distancing guidelines. Because of this new work landscape, employers are utilizing new tools to keep their team members safe and connected through automated lone worker-safety tools and technology.

Used for Centuries

One technology that has emerged during this time is contact tracing—which identifies those who have been in contact with an infected person, tests them for the virus, then treats them if needed—finding and isolating cases before it spreads within the organization. While contact tracing can be performed manually, there are a number of worker-safety apps available that will save you time and money. Contact tracing may be new to some of us, but it has actually been employed for centuries, going back to northern Italy in 1576 where Andrea Gratiolo used it to track those infected by the bubonic plague. This tool has been instrumental in helping contain outbreaks of the deadly virus and prevent it from spreading.

Privacy Controversy

In spite of the many, major benefits of contact tracing, there is some controversy surrounding the technology. When a system or app traces the people who could have possibly been infected by COVID-19, it also documents data like the worker’s location, who they interacted with and personal health information. In an article from peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, it was discovered that “most of the [contact tracing] applications in use or under consideration have an impact on individual privacy that democratic societies would normally consider to be unacceptably high.” The article goes on to say that the people being monitored “must express consent for all collection, use, and disclosure of personal information.”

Contact Tracing Consent

To help combat the virus, would you download an app that would trace and record your locations throughout the day? In a Pew Research Center study, a survey found that “58 percent of U.S. adults say they would be very or somewhat likely to speak with a public health official who contacted them to speak with them about the coronavirus outbreak as part of contact tracing. Similarly, north of the border, Statistics Canada found that “just over half of Canadians expressed some degree of support for such applications if they were recommended by public health authorities (56 percent).”

The good news is that the individual in which the system is tracing does have to provide consent for any of this information to be used and/or shared with the health authorities. Additionally, contact tracing apps cannot share any of the information mentioned above without the permission of the worker. What is relatively unknown is that most of these said apps do not track you when not working or on the jobsite, wherever that may be. Most of the contact tracing technology developed over the past year requires consent from its users, acknowledging the concerns around privacy and discretion.

Let’s Have a Discussion

So again, would you download contact tracing technology to help fight the COVID-19 battle? It’s a complicated question that merits a complicated answer, but it is an important discussion we must have—especially when lives, businesses and communities are at stake.

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