A New Normal?: Contact Tracing

NOTE: This is a fictional account about how Health Passports and Contact Tracing might work in a post COVID world.

Janey is excited to go to the concert this weekend. She and her friend Amelia have been looking forward to seeing their favorite band for over a year, since the last concert got postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s all she’s been able to talk about ever since the concert date was announced.

There was some question whether the concert would ever happen as infection rates never subsided and the county government continued to impose a ban on large indoor gatherings. Removing the ban on such events only became possible when an app was developed to assist local health authorities in a testing protocol for its population and contact tracing.

Many in the community thought the app was genius and because of the app, many businesses and schools and government offices have been able to resume more normal practices. Normal, like before the pandemic hit.

The app’s function is really quite simple. To start, an individual needs to get tested for the virus. There are several tests that can work to establish a baseline. Upon testing that person has an account created and can install the Health Passport app. If they have a negative test, the app opens up with a green background. Green means you are cleared to go to events, dine in restaurants, travel by air, attend events like concerts and football games and conferences, go to work or school, and so on. A positive test will result in a red background, indicating that the individual should be in quarantine. After awhile, a green background will turn yellow indicating to the user that it is time to be retested. When the vaccine becomes available, those who have been vaccinated will have a longer period of time before their background turns yellow.

This whole idea was initially suggested by the World Health Organization in late April of 2020.

Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection.

SOURCE: “Immunity passports” in the context of COVID-19.” World Health Organization

The program had been tested out first in Ireland and by United Airlines and Cathay Pacific and the initial success with those programs has been encouraging to many local and even some national governments around the world.

The local government where Janey lives was one of the first in her state to implement the program. And because of that Janey and Amelia, both with green backgrounds, are going to the concert tomorrow!

Janey is young and healthy, so she was never at a great risk for serious complications had she gotten sick from the virus, and she knew that. So over the past couple of weeks she attended a few gatherings of friends and surreptitiously last weekend she went to a house party. But this concert was going to be so much better than those events. It was her favorite band!

That afternoon, Janey and Amelia were getting ready for the concert; listening to some of the songs they were likely to hear live at the concert, dancing around Janey’s apartment, picking out their outfits for tonight’s adventure. They both checked their health passport app one more time before leaving for the concert. They called an Uber. The Uber app confirmed their “green” status and a driver was hailed.

They made the driver play some of the songs by the band they were off to see, and in about 20 minutes they arrived at the doors of the arena. This was going to be huge! And fun! They were finally here.

Janey and Amelia arrive at the gate to enter the arena. When they bought the ticket, the health passport app cleared them to purchase the ticket. It was also set up to confirm that they were still “green” when it was time for them to check in. The ticket scanner, showed green as Amelia scanned her electronic ticket and she bounded into the arena. Then Janey scanned her ticket. It was red! Staff at the arena donning all the required personal protection equipment mandated by the local health authority swooped in on Janey.

Amelia was confused, “What’s going on, Janey!”

“I don’t know. Just go on in and I’ll meet up with you when I can,” Janey replied with tears welling up.

The staff immediately and brusquely escorted her to the medical tent. When she arrived Richard, a technician at the medical tent, greeted Janey, scanned her health passport app one more time and looked into why Janey had been denied entry. That party Janey attended last weekend, it turns out, had someone in attendance who tested positive for the virus. The contact tracing function of the app identified that Janey and that person were at the party location at the same time. So the app automatically changed her profile to “red.” Janey needed to be in quarantine until she could prove that she was negative for the virus. Richard asked if she had a ride home

But because Janey was now “red” her request for an Uber to take her home was denied. She tried to reach Amelia. No luck. She called some other friends, but everyone she reached was reluctant to help, because they knew if they did, their own profile would turn “red” and would require that they quarantine as well.

Richard informed her that she would have to go with the other “reds” to a group quarantine center where she would be tested again. If her test was negative, she would be “green” again, and be free to return home, but if it was positive, she would have to spend the next two weeks at the quarantine center or until she had a negative test.

Janey had moved to Seattle to take a job with a tech company shortly after she graduated from college; that was just three years ago. When the pandemic hit, her parents back East lived in a hard hit community, and given their age and health conditions, have been mostly confined to their home. She hasn’t seen them in over a year.

Janey called her parents to let them know what had happened, but they were probably already asleep. No answer.

The intake nurse at the facility gave Janey some hospital scrubs to wear at the facility and some basic toiletries. She told Janey she was welcome to have someone bring her personal items, including clothing and a phone charger. Janey immediately sent a message to Amelia.

Because Janey was now “red” the contact tracing feature of the health passport app had now flagged Amelia as “red,” too. Amelia had just arrived at her seat in the arena when she received a notification from the health passport app that she was now required to self-quarantine. But Amelia had the same problem as Janey, now that she was “red” Uber wouldn’t allow her to use their service. And because she was “red” she could not find anyone willing to give her a ride home. If she was tracked outside of her home, the local health authorities had the authority to place her in the quarantine facility. Amelia got Janey’s message.

Amelia replied, “I can’t help you. I’m red!”

And then, “If I can’t find a way home, I may be joining you ?”

Janey was stuck.

Here’s how the Health Passport Ireland is being promoted to the Irish people.

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