Smartphones could soon be a key tool in tracking the spread of COVID-19.
Google and Apple are working together to enable digital contact tracing.
Traditionally, contact tracing is done manually. The labor-intensive process involves identifying those infected, finding out who they’ve been in contact with and encouraging those people to isolate or get tested.
Google and Apple aim to make it easier. In May, they’ll push new software to all Android and IOS devices, allowing Bluetooth signals to track if a phone’s been in close proximity to someone who’s infected.
It will then warn anyone who was around a possible carrier that they may have been exposed.
The companies say its tools won’t identify particular individuals but would make it possible for health officials to contact them.
Both companies say governments would not be able to require its citizens to use the software. Any user would need to opt-in.
Trust and wide adoption would be necessary for it to work, along with better access to testing.
“In the U.S. right now, we’re doing about 150,000 tests a day,” notes Dr. Ranu Dhillon of Harvard Medical School. “So we’re orders of magnitude away from where we need to be to be able to something that comprehensive and that aggressive.”
Once the technology is available in May, health officials will still have to build an app to utilize it, one contact tracing research group estimates that 60 percent of people in a region would need to download the app before digital tracing could stop the spread of the virus.