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Public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the importance of contact tracing. Even though there is not enough well-identified evidence to support this decision, COVID-19 pandemic has proved us right. One of the important examples took place in England.

Between September 25 and October 2, 2020, a total of 15,841 COVID-19 cases were not immediately reported in the tracking system due to a data processing error. The information was truncated from an Excel spreadsheet due to a row limit, which was only discovered on October 3.

Out of chance, the missing data was distributed among different parts in England, which then was calculated by Fetzer and Graeber that the more missing data caused more transmission in the area (1). Their findings therefore showed that contact-tracing indeed was an effective method against transmission.

Conservatively it is estimated that 125,000 additional infections and 1,500 additional COVID-19 related deaths occured due to the Excel error in that week. These numbers are too huge to do nothing about them.

One of the main concerns is also the fact that contact-tracing works much better when new cases are detected and isolated within 4 hours of contact (2), which is very hard to implement, given the high number of cases. 

We believe that the contact tracing will be much more effective and errorless when new technologies developed with the help of artificial intelligence technology are implemented in the field. We are looking forward to observing the new technologies taking the lead.

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References:

  1. Does Contact Tracing Work? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from an Excel Error in England. Fetzer, T.; Graeber, T.November 22, 2020, Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  2. Keeling, M. J., Hollingsworth, T. D., & Read, J. M. (2020). Efficacy of contact tracing for the containment of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Journal of epidemiology and community health, 74(10), 861–866.

Author

Elif Başak Alço

PM & CLINICAL TEAM

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