New challenges for US contact tracing


The best contact tracers in US history were a group of mid-20th century venereal disease investigators working for a programme at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whose strategy eventually led to the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s. Talking to infected people and tracking down their vague descriptions of contacts at a time when VD was a source of shame was challenging; recruits were required to have a college degree, preferably in liberal arts, and a varied background of work and experiences was considered a plus as it enabled them to talk easily to anyone. Today's tracing programmes, by contrast, are hired based on a variety of localised criteria: New York City is giving preference to clients of local food assistance and social support organisations, while San Francisco is choosing among furloughed city employees, and Massachusetts is applying algorithmic sorting to its pile of CVs and then deciding based on videos applicants have submitted explasining why they want the job. The first problem they all face, however, is how to get people to pick up the phone for a call from an unknown number.
Writer: Kate Murphy
Publication: New York Times