April 27, 2020

Businesses around the United States are beginning to reopen and more and more will reopen in the coming months.  There is, however, no vaccine for the novel coronavirus and such a vaccine may not be available for more than a year.  Worse yet, many have warned that there may be a “second wave of COVID-19 cases in late fall” of this year.  One strategy to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus absent a vaccine is called “contact tracing”—identifying people who have been exposed to an individual who tested positive and advising them on steps to take (e.g., monitoring for symptoms, self-quarantining, or testing).  Contact tracing with “systems [that] rely on digital surveillance” has, according to the New York Times, “helped Asian countries like South Korea and Singapore contain the spread of the virus.”

Several organizations are working on contact tracing systems, including Apple and Google, which announced earlier in April that they were partnering on a COVID-19 “contact tracing technology” that they plan to roll out starting in May 2020.  While there are differences in the various technologies in development, the basic idea is that a user will receive an alert if the user’s phone has been within a specified range of a phone belonging to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.  While contact “tracing” implies that an app (and therefore the app developer or, potentially, government authorities) will be tracking the location of every user of the app, at least two of the systems being developed, including the Apple–Google technology, will not collect any location data.

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