Surveillance in sickness and in health

Welcome to the era of syndromic surveillance. After largely forgoing contact tracing early on, CDC Director Robert Redfield pinpointed the public health tool as a key focus going forward—and highlighted technology’s role in augmenting the human taskforce needed to do the job. Right on cue, Apple and Google announced the development of a COVID-19 tracing API to alert individuals if they’ve been exposed to someone with the disease.

Such an approach is promising, with a few potential challenges: Bluetooth is spotty, widespread adoption is needed to be effective, distrust runs deep within marginalized communities, and, of course, privacy is a concern. As digital health companies have reportedly been tapped to support a national coronavirus surveillance system, it seems we’re left to decide—will we relinquish our privacy in the name of security?


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