May 19, 2020 - Health

Americans are on board with contact tracing as long as it doesn't involve cellphone data

Data: Axios/Ipsos survey; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: Axios/Ipsos survey; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A large majority of Americans say they're likely to cooperate with contact tracing and isolation efforts — as long as that doesn't involve handing over their cellphone location data, according to the latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: Basing contact tracing efforts around voluntary cellphone programs is only effective if people are willing to use those programs — which Americans generally aren't, as we reported last week.

  • But they seem much more willing to tell health officials who they have come into contact with after testing positive for the coronavirus, and to self-isolate if they are on an infected person's list of contacts.
  • That's good news. Stopping the virus' spread is dependent on figuring out who has it, who those people may have given it to, and preventing those people from spreading it even further.

The bottom line: One of the benefits of using cellphone programs for contact tracing is that they relieve some of the human workload. But this polling suggests that traditional contact tracing will be more effective — which experts say could require upwards of 100,000 workers.

Go deeper: Why contact tracing may fall apart

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