State now has contact tracers, and an app

In Monday’s State House Select Committee on COVID-19 briefing, Ray Vara of Hawaii Pacific Health said under the new State Department of Health leadership, the number of contact tracers has ramped up to 286, up from fewer than 100 a month ago — a vast improvement under the new head of the effort, Dr. Emily Roberson.   Vara also said the State DOH now has 14 out of the 20 disease investigators it needs.   But he noted the tracers are having challenges in getting people to cooperate.

When somebody is diagnosed with COVID-19, they should, ideally, be contacted within 24 hours to find out where they’d been and with whom they had been in contact, in order to talk to those who may also have been exposed and get testing or get them into isolation, as appropriate.  But Vara and Dr. Mark Mugiishi of HMSA said that the tracers are able to do the job fully a little less than 50% of the time.

They said people don’t respond for a variety of reasons–they think the call is a scam call, they are afraid to admit they’d been out in large groups, they are fearful of legal repercussions or shame.   Dr. Mugiishi said it’s critical for people to cooperate.  The contact tracers are not involved in enforcement, and only want to help the state combat the virus–with no shame for anybody.

The State has a new contact tracing app–Aloha Safe– that will be formally rolled out in a couple of weeks, that State DOH will encourage people to download.  It will record where somebody has been for the last 21 days, and if somebody gets COVID-19, they can choose to release that information to notify others with the app who may have been close.    The app would not identify the person who has COVID-19, but would alert others they had been close (based on the cellphone GPS data).   The data is all anonymous, and the user can choose to share or not share the information with the DOH.

The Aloha Safe Story app, also called Aloha Safe Alert,  is available for download now through the App Store and says it’s an app in coordination with the Hawaii State Department of Health.    On Sept. 22, tech guru Ryan Ozawa wrote a column for the Honolulu Star Advertiser talking about the new app and how it will only be effective if everybody uses it.   Ozawa said it is important to have “an app that can take advantage of the unprecedented exposure notification system jointly developed by Apple and Google. And that requires coordination with the state’s primary public health agency, the Department of Health.”   Click here for that column.  Click here for more information from State DOH.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has also brought in the company Salesforce, Inc., and some private entities to address contact tracing in the county.  Salesforce, Inc., a San Francisco-based company, has worked in other states on contact tracing.  So far there is no additional information about that effort nor how it relates to the state’s work.

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