In a new op-ed, published yesterday in The Hill, Mary L. Gray and her co-authors argue for the importance of human labor behind contact tracing and argue for a more human-centered approach in current tech strategies.
As the Center for Disease Control (CDC) plans to massively scale up testing and contact-tracing for COVID-19, Gray argues cell phone location data for digital contact tracing is only a partial solution. “Successful contact tracing involves patiently helping people recall with whom they have interacted in the preceding weeks and assessing the risk associated with each of these interactions,” they argue. “Irrelevant contact data will needlessly consume precious human contact tracer time.”
Successful contact tracing programs rely on deeply human exchanges. It requires trust between the human contact tracers and those who have been exposed to life-threatening diseases. Technology can help in important ways—dynamic reference tools, secure databases, and centralized data storage— but ultimately, the best technological interventions to fight COVID-19 will be those designed with collaboration and equity in mind. Technological solutions must help the human contact tracers with the difficult work of building human connection and trust in our public health systems.
Mary Gray’s co-authors include Barbara Grosz, Higgins Research Professor of Natural Sciences in the Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University and external faculty at the Santa Fe Institute, and Margaret Bourdeaux, MD, MPH, the policy liaison for Partners in Health COVID-19 Contact Tracing Program. She holds appointments at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.