Michigan to roll out text messaging as part of contact tracing

So far, only about two-thirds of the people
health officials are calling are answering their phones, Michigan’s chief medical executive said, so to address the problem, the health department is adding a one-way texting feature – with two-way texting to come.
In a 30-minute webinar Wednesday with the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun updated businesses on how the state is fighting the pandemic and the steady evolution of its contact tracing efforts.
“I know it’s been a long 2020 for everyone,” she said. “I can tell you at the Michigan Department of Health and and Human Services we’ve been fighting COVID-19 since the beginning of January.”
She talked about the state’s successes and limitations, including trying to reach people by phone who
ignore calls from
unfamiliar numbers
and identifying potential infections in a crowd.
The text message feature, the health department hopes, will help because people do tend to read texts, and it is working on adding the ability for people to also respond by text message.
Contact tracing – the process of investigating infections and tracking down who else might have been infected to contain the illness – is hardly a new idea, the doctor emphasized. It is a standard procedure for other infectious diseases.
It’s the scale at which public health officials are attempting to do it that is different.
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Since April, Khaldun said, the state has added more professional staff, from about 100 to 1,000 now, and 10,000 volunteers. She said the state has also
upgraded technology to make
it easier to notify and track people who may have been infected.
It’s also looking at how it can adopt more mobile app technology.


Another contact tracing limitation, she said, is trying find people who might have been at a restaurant the same time as someone who tests positive for the virus. In many cases, it is impossible to identify and notify those contacts.


“Sometimes, we may not be able to identify who those patrons were,” she said.
That’s also another reason why hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing is so vital, because it helps to reduce the spread of the infection as businesses and workplaces open.
The health department said in May its contact tracing plan will rely mostly on dogged investigations and phone calls to alert people that may have been infected by the coronavirus, not high-tech apps that are being developed.
And while Khaldun seemed to mostly stick to that on Wednesday – suggesting that apps can give false readings and are not as thorough as someone calling would be – she also seemed open to adopting more mobile technology in the future.
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