What Contact Tracing Data Is Telling Us About How COVID-19 Spreads : Shots - Health News The information includes details on where transmission is happening most. If more states shared this widely, it could shape policy and save lives, health researchers say.

14 States Make Contact Tracing Data Public. Here's What They're Learning

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An NPR investigation has found that many states are doing contact tracing, but only a handful are making the data public. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin conducted this survey. She's with me now. Good morning.


KING: What's at stake here? What's the data that you get from doing contact tracing?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So as a reminder, this process happens when somebody first tests positive for COVID-19. As quickly as possible, public health workers call them and ask them to name and give contact info for their close contacts, people they may have exposed, so that those people can quarantine. And some of the data that comes out of this has to do with the process - how quickly health workers are able to reach out, how many people answer and cooperate, that kind of thing. But you can also learn about where transmission is happening in these interviews. If a lot of people who are positive think they got sick at work, for example, that's really key information that can help policymakers and just regular, everyday people make decisions.

KING: What places are sharing the data?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, there are only a handful sharing the data that they're gathering right now. The best example I've seen on the where data is Louisiana. It doesn't have a lot of raw data or graphs, but there is a really detailed list of settings where outbreaks have occurred in the state, from casinos to weddings to industrial settings, and they update this list weekly. And you can see that bars, for instance, are driving more outbreaks and more cases than gyms, which is, you know, really interesting insight.

New Jersey has a very cool dashboard that shows contact tracing staff numbers and even breaks down how many tracers are working in each county. And Maryland shows the volume of contact tracing calls over time and how many people were reached successfully and provided contacts. And that information is key to understand how well contact tracing is working in a state and thus how effective it is at keeping transmission at bay.

KING: OK. So Louisiana, New Jersey, Maryland making it public - but you said most states aren't. Why wouldn't they be?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: I asked Crystal Watson about this. She's a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and she collaborated with NPR on this survey. She said limited resources are likely the reason.

CRYSTAL WATSON: Health departments are really stretched to the limit right now, and it's not a trivial thing to put together the data infrastructure to report it publicly.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: But Watson is really hoping that more states will start making this data public. She says federal guidelines on the metrics that states should be using and the goals for these data would really help, and she also says we've been here before. There was pressure months ago to make coronavirus testing data and demographic data more transparent and better quality, and that pressure seemed to have an effect. So Watson and some other public health experts hope that there can be a similar push for more states to take share contact tracing data as well.

KING: But it sounds like what they're really going to need in order to do that is resources.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes, definitely - resources, guidance and maybe some pressure from the public to say, hey, this information is really key and interesting, and we'd like to see it too.

KING: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Thanks, Selena.


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