There are two big problems holding America back when it comes to contact tracing and response for Covid-19: the length of time it takes to get a test result and the American drive for liberty, according to Dr. Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator.
“First and foremost is that it is taking four, five, six, seven days to get a test result,” he said during an Aspen Ideas webinar on Friday.
Asking someone who they had contact with in the last 24 hours is completely different than asking someone who they had contact with in the 24 hours prior to getting their test a week ago, Shah said.
“Every effort to look at pandemic response, including the smallpox eradication campaign from decades ago, show that, you know, the timeliness of people’s recall is everything when it comes down to this,” he said.
The second problem is what Shah referred to as “the sort of American drive for liberty” – something he said he holds very dearly.
“But, at the time of a pandemic, threatens all of us,” he said. “Asking people to sacrifice a little bit of their privacy in order to keep the country safe from a disease that is otherwise out of control should be something that our leaders ask of all of us in a measured and appropriate way.”
Having initially been asked about the use of technology in contact tracing, Shah said that there are safe ways that technology can be used that can improve contact tracing “that really do not reflect a major sacrifice in privacy beyond what we already have granted simply for the conveniences of life.”
He highlighted the system in place if someone goes to South Korea, where someone is joined into a system when they land, gets a test, goes to where they are quarantining, where they are sent food and a care package, and test results are sent within hours. This is all tied into a system that allows people to very easily report their contacts, he said.
“That’s what you need to have everywhere in order for this to work,” he said.