As announced by City health officials Friday, San Francisco is now using mobile data technology to better its contact tracing efforts; the new virtual assistant tool from California will be used by SF's 200 contact tracers.
Mask wearing, social distancing, and contact tracing are all vitally important to bending the curve (even as it continues to arch upward). In fact, well-practiced contact tracing is lauded by many health officials as to why other developed countries in the world — like Japan and South Korea — have managed to mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks.
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In an effort to improve its contact tracing efficacy, San Francisco will now use mobile technology from California Connected, the state's official contact tracing program, to help thwart the spread of COVID-19.
"We have been really proud to say at most times during this pandemic DPH reaches more than 80% of the San Franciscans who test positive for COVID-19 and their close contact but we're seeing it start to slip because we are in a large surge," said Dr. Susan Philip from San Francisco's Department of Public Health to KTVU, before announcing the virtual assistant rollout. "Today San Francisco is rolling out a virtual assistant tool that many other counties are already using to supplement their case investigation and contact tracing work."
By leveraging the state's California Connected system more broadly, City contact tracers now have the option of using mobile contact tracing technology to help in their tracking efforts. (SF's team of contact tracers aren't going to be replaced by virtual assistance tool; it's not autonomous enough to do so. But the technology will, however, act as a force multiplier — more feet on the ground, if you will — and allow the team to extend its reach as COVID-19 rates increase.)
But moreover: how does the mobile tracking assistant technology actually work? Well, it starts with human participation.
Using the phone number a client provided during their screening, those who test positive for COVID-19 are then texted the results and provided an online survey to fill out by the assistant. The questions are then digitally aggregated before a member of the City's COVID-19 tracing team gets in contact with them to go over necessary safety measures — like how to properly self-quarantine, what symptoms that would necessitate a hospital visit, etc. — and gather more details on possible points of contact.
"This part [about using mobile tracking data] is really important," Philip adds. "We are asking people to share with us the names and the contact information, the mobile numbers of their close contacts if they have them, and this allows us to reach out to those people and support them."
California Connected has stated that a client’s identity and health information are "always kept confidential and contact tracers will not ask for Social Security numbers, payment information, or immigration statuses. (Calls from alleged contact tracers asking for any of these pieces of information — especially payment — should be viewed as a scam.)
Any information shared over the mobile technology system will also be treated as such.For more details on California Connected, visit covid19.ca.gov/contact-tracing.