By Jon Swartz
Testing, testing, testing has been the persistent mantra among health and government officials in these days of coronavirus.
But of equal importance is contact tracing before communities and the general economy can be reopened. Congress would need to allocate about $3.6 billion in emergency funding, including the hiring of 100,000 contact tracers, to identify who has tested positive for COVID-19 and find out from them where they have gone and whom they’ve come in contact with, according to the report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Engineering teams at smartphone giants Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -3.17% and Google parent Alphabet Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -2.42% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -2.38% stepped up earlier this month to create a contact tracing tool via a mobile phone app for consumers.
That still leaves a gap for an enterprise solution, as companies prepare to bring back millions of workers over the next few months. The labor-intensive, time-consuming task of contact tracing has likely been on their to-do list, along with when and where it plans to bring employees back on site.
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“You gotta do something with the test results. There is a lot of chasing down people,” Conduent Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202757355/composite CNDT +1.99% Chief Executive Cliff Skelton told MarketWatch in a phone interview Monday. His company has developed a software solution for contact tracing of COVID-19 -- previously, it has created modules to track cases of Ebola, SARS, STD, AIDS -- that works in concert with Amazon.com Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.79% AWS to track the spread of the pandemic in more than a dozen jurisdictions that include the city of Boston and state of Washington. It works primarily with public health agencies at the state, city, and county levels.
Case in point: The World Health Organization reported in February it required 1,800 teams of epidemiologists, with a minimum of five people per team, to trace tens of thousands of contacts a day to contain the outbreak in Wuhan, China.
Conduent’s disease surveillance platform for public health agencies is designed to streamline and automate contact tracing for case management. Its results depict who has been infected on a Google Maps and Google Earth.
“Contact tracing is essential to business continuity plans,” said Skelton, a naval officer and fighter pilot who flew in the Blue Angels has worked at Fiserv Inc. /zigman2/quotes/204817680/composite FISV -0.29% and Bank of America Corp. /zigman2/quotes/200894270/composite BAC -0.55% , now wants to offer his product, called Maven , to large companies.
Without contact tracing, the risk of new waves of infections will continue to hamper economic recovery efforts. Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and one of the lead authors of the report, told NBC News contact tracing needs to be implemented before the reopening of the larger economy.