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Implementing a COVID-19 Contact Tracing Program to Support Reopening the Economy

Jonathan McDonald
Blog Post04/16/2020
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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic has drastically changed most every aspect of our lives. While the focus of this public health emergency has rightly been saving lives and reducing the virus’ spread, the economic fallout has been dramatic following the shuttering of much of the economy. The COVID-19 crisis is forecasted to peak in May, but we can expect a slow resumption of normal economic and social activities until a vaccine is widely available next year.

How to restart the economy during a pandemic
The keys to restarting the economy during a pandemic hinge on the combination of lower infection rates and increased healthcare-system capacity. A recent McKinsey article lays out a framework for deciding when to reopen the economy. It also identifies the following requirements should be in place to ensure healthcare systems can manage cases as people return to work:

  1. Lower local infection rate: Determine the number of new cases in a given area to assess readiness of a healthcare system’s shift from mass emergency to individual response.

  2. Adequate medical capacity: Ensure there are enough ICU beds, ventilators and medical staff to accommodate the worst cases.

  3. Fast testing for suspected infection: Rapid testing capability for COVID-19 infection to determine effective response and treatment.

  4. Contact tracing systems: Process for identifying and isolating infected individuals and those they’ve been in contact with.

  5. Continued public education and guidance: Use the best scientific evidence available to drive social and health policy.

While government agencies and private sector companies have been working toward increasing the capacity to measure, test and treat COVID-19 patients, an adequate system of contact tracing has yet to emerge. TransUnion’s Specialized Risk Solutions may provide a foundation for contact tracing.

Understanding contact tracing
As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), contact tracing is a standard tool used to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Simply stated, it’s a process to identify and alert people who have been in close contact with an infected individual. By contacting and monitoring those with a higher potential to become infected, public health leaders can reduce the spread of a virus by keeping them from infecting others. Contact tracing can be broken down into three basic steps:

  1. Contact identification: Once someone is confirmed to be infected with the virus, contacts are identified by retracing the person’s activities (and the activities and roles of the people around them) since the onset of illness. Contacts are anyone who has been in contact with an infected person: family members, work colleagues, friends, healthcare providers or others.

  2. Contact listing: All persons considered to have contact with the infected person should be listed as contacts. Efforts should be made to identify every listed contact and inform them of their contact status — what it means, actions to follow, and the importance of receiving early care if they develop symptoms.

  3. Contact follow-up: Regular follow-up should be conducted with all contacts to monitor for symptoms, test for signs of infection and recommend appropriate care.

Utilizing existing investigative tools to support contact tracing
Government agencies already use investigative tools for locating and contacting individuals who may be involved in social services, tax fraud or criminal investigations. Contact identification tools like TransUnion’s Specialized Risk Solutions can also be used to help public-health organizations implement contact tracing by locating at-risk individuals on a contact list for a known infection.

Contact identification can help agencies rapidly deploy contact tracing capabilities, including:

  • Analytics-based address rankings to better understand impacted populations based on ZIP code, county of residence and more; this can also include information on residents in large complexes who may pose a higher risk because of the close interaction they have with one another

  • Phone numbers for the dissemination of critical alerts from public health agencies or Emergency Operations Centers (EOC)

  • Place of Employment (POE) data to identify populations that may have been exposed to COVID-19 based on any known cases in a particular organization

  • Relatives, known associates and relational insights to better understand possible population interactions

  • Dates of birth to discover high-risk populations, such as communities with elderly residents who may require additional support or special care

Creating an actionable contact list for contact tracing
When a contact list has been created through individual investigation as outlined above or via another mechanism — such as an airline’s passenger manifest, business conference attendee list or hotel registry — TransUnion’s right-party contact and data quality solutions can be used to validate, match and enrich large data sets to verify and append names, phone numbers, addresses, emails, places of employment and more.

In addition to core contact information and relational insights, opportunities exist to leverage derived attributes to support patient care initiatives at the state and local levels to help improve overall quality of care for at-risk populations.

Planning to reopen the economy
While most of the US is still in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, the focus, rightly, is on saving lives. Yet, there are signs certain areas of the country have succeeded in using social distancing to “bend-the curve” of the infection, and we’re starting to see healthcare-system capacity broaden with more testing, equipment and staff to deal with the most serious cases.

As we begin to see this health emergency stabilize, processes that help reopen parts of the economy should be put in place. Determining how to implement a contact tracing program is critical to this plan.

TransUnion is here to help. Learn more today.

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