singer186_Robin UtrechtSOPA ImagesLightRocket via Getty Images_coronavirusappcontacttracing Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

How (Not) to Fight COVID-19

Public-health experts who adhere to rigid rules for containing the pandemic are standing in the way of new technologies that can help us develop a more flexible approach. By focusing on those with the highest risk of spreading the virus, we can inflict less harm and contain the pandemic more effectively.

MELBOURNE/TUCSON – When COVID-19 first appeared, strict quarantine requirements and short, tight lockdowns would have been a small price to pay to keep it at bay. Now that the pandemic has infected over 26 million people in 213 countries and territories, we need to find new ways to control it that are not just effective, but also efficient.

To avoid inflicting more pain than necessary, we should target stay-at-home orders as precisely as possible to those who are most likely to pose a risk to others. This requires not just tracing the contacts of those who are infected, but also distinguishing which of their contacts are most likely to have been infected.

Here, technology can help. We should combine new apps that notify people when they have been exposed to a risk of infection with new testing methods that are fast, easy, and as readily available as pregnancy tests. Contact tracing cannot work without fast test results, but it can work well even if more rapid tests are not as accurate as the ones we have now. Apps can improve not only the scalability of contact tracing, but also, importantly, its speed.

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