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Miami-Dade County taking steps to track COVID-19 by hiring contact tracers

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – With South Florida entering Phase 2 of reopening, leaders in Miami-Dade County want to find a better way to track the spread of COVID-19.

An update on contact tracing was on the agenda of Miami-Dade County Commission meeting Tuesday afternoon, which came on the heels of a meeting on Monday, according to infectious disease expert with FIU Dr. Aileen Marty.

She said that’s where she learned of some good news; that more than 600 contact tracers have been hired, with a plan to hire even more in place.

Dr. Marty believes there should be 900 contact tracers at this time in order to help gather critical data points and inform policy, but she adds that this is “a lot better than before.”

Even with the added contact tracers, Dr. Marty said another issue is public compliance when contacted.

“More than 50 percent of people who are contacted refuse to speak with the contact tracing, and this is one of the most series aspects of the contact tracing dilemma,” said Dr. Marty. "It is clear that our population hasn’t grasped how important it is.

“You cannot open schools; you can’t go any further on the openings until we have this business of testing and contact tracing completely in hand.”

Miami-Dade County also has a new contact tracing appl Combat COVID MDC.

“I am not sure if this was just a band-aid to help people feel comfortable,” said web expert Craig Agranoff.

When the app appeared in the app store over the weekend, someone posted a one-star review with a complaint about “poor implementation.”

Agranoff explained that part of the issue comes in certain situations. For example, imagine you are at a restaurant…

“You have to take out your phone, find the app, press the button, leave it open, and then you need to hope that everyone else around you has done the same type of thing, and then does the next step and self-identifies that they had COVID and alert everyone else,” he said. “If we see one or two percent of the public using this, I would be surprised. For critical mass, you would need it to be at about 60 percent for it to have any form of effectiveness.”

Agranoff said the app has to be on in the foreground of your phone to work. That means the app needs to be opened and then left open, not swiped off in the way that apps can be closed.

The phone doesn’t have to be active as long as the app is running in the foreground.

Jack Bentolila, the deputy director of Miami-Dade County’s internal services department explains the limitations the county is trying to work past:

“In order to provide our community this additional contact tracing tool, the CombatCOVID app requires a multistep acknowledgement to confirm their positive test anonymously,” he said in an email. "The notification to those that they exchanged digital keys with in the last 14 days will indicate that they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID and they are encouraged to get tested. Apple users, who download the app, are informed through the download process that when using the app they should ensure the app is launched anytime they will be in a situation where social distancing will be difficult to ensure the anonymous Bluetooth digital keys are exchanged. This is needed as Apple operating system manages the use of all apps on their devices to save battery life. This does not occur with Android devices, even without the API and unique ID, the Android operating system allows the user to manage the applications on their devices.

“Although we have imbedded this multistep verification in the application, the Apple and Google store will not approve the use of the API functions without a unique health care system unique ID code. The CombatCOVID app still provides a mechanism of anonymous contact tracing that will benefit the county. We will be working with the vendor and Palm Beach County to request that the Apple and Google stores waive the requirement for the unique ID for the CombatCOVID application.”


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