Video: The future of exposure notifications

Discussing my exposure notifications reporting at the webinar!

This week, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar about the future of exposure notifications, the digital contact tracing systems used in about half of U.S. states. The webinar was hosted by PathCheck Foundation, a global nonprofit that works on public health technology—including exposure notification apps.

I talked about my recent feature in MIT Technology Review, which investigated usage rates and public opinion around exposure notification technology. Other panelists included Jeremy Hall, project manager of Hawaii’s exposure notification system, Sam Zimmerman, director of exposure notification programs at PathCheck, and Ramesh Raskar, technology professor at MIT and PathCheck founder.

It was a great session, with discussion ranging from the challenges of implementing exposure notification technology in the U.S. to the ways this technology may be used for future infectious disease outbreaks. With a year of work under their belts, Zimmerman and Raskar brought insider perspectives to the challenges that I had seen from the outside in my reporting. For example, Raskar discussed how Massachusetts’ own exposure notification app is still in a trial run even though PathCheck approached the state public health agency offering to provide that technology in summer 2020.

I was also excited to hear from Hall on how Hawaii’s public health agency promoted exposure notification technology in their state. At the time I collected data for my Technology Review piece, Hawaii had about 650,000 people in the state’s exposure notification system, including those who downloaded the app and those who turned on the EN Express option in their iPhone settings. That represented 46% of the state’s population—a larger share than any other state.

Since I did my data collection, Hawaii has added an additional 250,000 users, I learned from Hall. This includes both Hawaii residents and tourists; tourists with iPhones get push notifications encouraging them to opt into EN Express when they enter the state. Hawaii has also worked with county public health departments and local organizations to publicize its exposure notification system. I think the state could be a model for other public health institutions working to implement exposure notification technology.

If you’d like to watch the webinar, it was recorded and is available at this link—you’ll just need to put in a name and email. The conversation starts about one minute in.

More on contact tracing

  • A dispatch from Provincetown, Mass.
    This week, I had the opportunity to talk to Mike, a Bear Week attendee from Pittsburgh, who caught COVID-19 in Provincetown. He told me about his experience attending parties, getting sick, and learning about the scale of the outbreak.
  • Video: The future of exposure notifications
    This week, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar about the future of exposure notifications, the digital contact tracing systems used in about half of U.S. states. The webinar was hosted by PathCheck Foundation, a global nonprofit that works on public health technology—including exposure notification apps.
  • Evaluating exposure notification apps: Expanded methodology behind the story
    This week, I have a new feature out in MIT Technology Review. It’s an investigation into the usage rates and public opinion of exposure notification apps—those Bluetooth-enabled systems that promised to function as a method of digital contact tracing. You can read the story here; and for the CDD this week, I wanted to provide kind-of an extended methodology behind the piece.
  • Privacy-first from the start: The backstory behind your exposure notification app
    Since last fall, I’ve been fascinated by exposure notification apps. These phone applications use Bluetooth to track people’s close contacts and inform them when a contact has tested positive for COVID-19. As I wrote back in October, though, data on the apps are few and far between, leaving me with a lot of questions about how many people actually have these apps on their phones—and how well they’re working at preventing COVID-19 spread. This week, I put those questions to Jenny Wanger, co-founder of the TCN Coalition and Director of Programs at the Linux Foundation of Public Health.
  • Where are we most likely to catch COVID-19?
    This week, I wrote a story for Popular Science that goes over what we know (and don’t know) about the most common settings for COVID-19 infection. The story allowed me to revisit a database on superspreading events and issues with a lack of contact tracing data in the U.S.

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