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Meaningful Contact Tracing in the United States is Hopeless

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epa08385061 A handout photo made available by the US Navy shows Lt. j.g. Natasha McClinton, an operating room (OR) nurse, preparing a patient for a procedure in the intensive care unit (ICU) aboard the US hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) in New York, New York, USA, 23 April 2020 (issued 26 April 2020), during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Comfort, which cares for critical and non critical patients without regard to their COVID-19 status, is working with Javits New York Medical Station as an integrated system to relieve the New York City medical system. EPA/US NAVY/MC2 SARA ESHLEMAN HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES Dostawca: PAP/EPA.

Honestly, I see no possible way contract tracing is going to be even a remotely effective tactic in the United States.

After a woman in Rockland County, N.Y., admitted to throwing her daughter a party while showing coronavirus symptoms, contact tracers sprung into action.

They phoned dozens of guests, hoping to get the partygoers tested and isolated and stop an emerging virus cluster in its tracks. But many of the attendees hung up, handed the calls to their parents or flat-out lied, saying they never made it to the event on June 17. Others never picked up at all.

So this week, county health officials tried a much more drastic approach. They issued subpoenas to eight of the partygoers, ordering them to speak up to the disease detectives or face a fine of up to $2,000 a day — and it worked.

“It’s amazing how smart some people got,” Ed Day, the county executive, told CNN on Thursday. “Everybody is complying and helping us, which is all that we’re trying to have happen. … We’re not looking to be punitive here.”

Going the subpoena route is a good idea actually. But that’s also the problem. We simply live in a nation where people both don’t trust the government and where we ignore phone calls entirely. If contract tracers have to take a legal route to get an initial response from potentially exposed people then so much time is wasted and money spent that the entire effort loses its effectiveness. And this is assuming that counties would even go this route, which we know some would not. Rockland County? Sure. Right-wing counties in Florida? No.

If we lived in a nation where people have a basic modicum of trust in their governments–say South Korea, New Zealand, or Norway–contact tracing would be an effective strategy. And if we lived in a truly authoritarian state like China, then sure. But we live in a declining and dysfunctional democracy. Contract tracing just isn’t going to work here. Maybe it would have worked if Trump had shown basic leadership here, but I’d also like a pony. And if a Democrat was president, the Republican Party would be engaging in a giant conspiracy theory that Democrats wanted your information so they could oppress your freedoms. It’s just a fruitless strategy. We can do it where we can. But to think it is going to contain the virus? No, that is just not going to happen. Not in this country. Speaking of which…..

By day, Bianca Ambrosia works on the COVID-19 floor at a Birmingham-area hospital, where she wears a mask for protection from the virus.

But by night, she says she frequents packed bars and typically goes without a mask unless she’s asked to wear one while ordering or visiting a restroom. Late Friday night, Ambrosia sat nursing a drink on a stool outside Mojo Pub in Birmingham’s Lakeview neighborhood.

“I work in the healthcare industry, so I feel like I probably won’t get it if I haven’t gotten it by now,” she said. “In general, bars make you have a mask on when you initially come in. But once you’re in a booth or somewhere by yourselves, you can take it off. How are you going to have a drink with a mask on?”

The answer to that question for many Birmingham bar patrons Friday night and early Saturday was to simply go without a face covering. Dozens of people packed into each of a slew of bars in Lakeview, Avondale and Southside, and many more congregated in their outdoor spaces.

Some said they were worried about the fact that Jefferson County is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases. But others said they weren’t concerned.

Of the 4,802 COVID-19 cases that had been confirmed in Alabama’s largest county by 10 a.m. Friday, a record 1,321 – or more than 27.5 percent – of those cases were added over the previous seven days, according to the Alabama Department of Health. Alabama also reported its largest single-day statewide increase in new cases on Friday, with 1,758 cases confirmed over 24 hours, according to the department.

Whew boy……. For that matter, look up the gigantic parties on Fire Island last night that are trending on Twitter. It’s COVID central out there and lots of people just don’t care. Or hey, maybe our nurses can go get their tongues pierced in between shifts in the COVID-unit.

Many of us want to blame this all on Trump, DeSantis, Kay Ivey, etc. And they absolutely 100% deserve a lot of the blame. But it’s also too easy to do so. A huge part of the problem is this nation’s character. While it is certainly an overgeneralization to say that a nation has a “national character,” a distrust of government, extreme emphasis on individual rights, and an indifference to the death of ourselves and especially others really does define much about a nation that allows a guy to blow up a classroom of 6 year olds and responds by making it easier to buy guns. All of these problems are seriously restricting our ability to control this disease.

I also know that people around here like to cite polls that say that people want to do the right thing and are doing the right thing. But this is an area where polling isn’t particularly helpful. It’s akin to labor people saying that polls show unions are really popular. That’s true, as far as it goes. But the problem is that people don’t prioritize it by voting. Other factors dominate their voting behavior and so you have lots of Republican voters who theoretically support unions but vote in politicians who decimate workplace rights. It’s a bit similar here, or so it seems, where people claim to want to do the right thing, but also have a heck of a good way of assuming that whatever they are in fact doing is safe or just making excuses for it when they do engage in unsafe behavior.

The problems with our national COVID-19 response run much deeper than Donald Trump or the Republican Party. Like the rest of our national dysfunction, the roots of this are multifaceted and will take a complete reshaping of what it means to be an American to be fixed.

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