What is contact tracing?

What is contact tracing?
Moai Team
Moai Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought plenty of new language along with it. So what does ‘contact tracing’ mean, and how does it work?

By now everyone is used to the phrases ‘unprecedented’ and ‘the new normal’. But some of the new lingo birthed by coronavirus might need a little more explanation: like contact tracing.

Governments are using the term to describe their approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in their respective countries. The World Health Organisation refers to “the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission”. WHO calls it an essential public health tool (when systematically applied) to manage the transmission of the virus.

Manual contact tracing vs using an app

In simple terms, it relates to how we understand who has been in contact with an infected person. Once a ‘contact’ can be ‘traced’, they can be asked to take measures - most likely, to ‘self-isolate’, another new phrase - to mitigate the spread of the disease. They don’t need to be tested: the fact that they have been at risk, having been exposed to an infected person, means they can be ‘locked down’ without ever testing positive for the virus.

In the UK, we talk about ‘manual’ contact tracing - whereby infected people provide their own list of ‘contacts’ and those people are followed up manually by human ‘tracers’.

Meanwhile, ‘contact tracing’ is also used to describe the apps that automatically alert contacts to their risk level. Some apps record users’ locations and, if they test positive, can alert those who have been in those locations at the same time. They can also tell you the ‘risk level’ in your area based on that data.

How does a contact tracing app work?

The NHS COVID-19 app launched in England in September relies on Bluetooth technology to detect when other app users are nearby. If two phones running the app are close enough, for a long enough period, and one of the two users later shares a positive coronavirus test result via the app, then the other will receive an alert.

A major concern with these apps is privacy. Most require personal data to be collected in order to operate effectively. At Moai, we have built a solution that doesn’t require any information about who you are or even where you have been. You just scan a code when you enter a location, and if anyone who scanned the same code (within a given time frame) has submitted a positive COVID-19 test result, you’ll be alerted via the app. It’s easy to use and your information is completely secure, making it unique. You could even say unprecedented.