The rise of the Delta variant is triggering all sorts of memories: the anxiety during the first Covid wave in 2020, the crushing winter surge and the unceasing discussion about “nonpharmaceutical intervention” such as masking or distancing, concerns about children and schools, and the debate about “nonpharmaceutical therapies”. It hasn’t brought back discussions about contact tracing, which was one of the best ways to contain the pandemic in its early days. Contact tracing has been dead many times before. The New York Times reported that Covid-19 was failing in many states four and a half years after it was first identified in the US. It was indeed, even though failing is not the same as stopping the pandemic. It seems that the country has almost completely disappeared from the equation one year later as it faces another deadly wave. Earlier this summer, a Covid-19 viewpoint in JAMA titled “Beyond Tomorrow” sketched out four possible outcomes for SARS-CoV-2–elimination, containment, cohabitation, and conflagration. It did not mention contact tracing. Covid endgame articles in July, August and STAT by reporters who have been at the forefront of coronavirus coverage, also did not mention contact tracing. A Kaiser Health News story recently described contract workers and a public feeling exhausted by the Delta surge. It noted that contact tracing appears to have fallen by obscurity. According to the story, there are fewer people in Texas and Arkansas who can alert people about being exposed to the virus and offer advice on how to isolate them. Texas’ new budget bans all state funding for contact trace. This was just as Delta became the predominant strain in the US. However, just as social distancing and masking are making a comeback, so must contact tracing. The world’s latest virus will require help from one of the oldest public health methods. This practice is credited with helping to end smallpox and SARS-1 and has been used over the years (alongside vaccines and treatments) in order to control tuberculosis and other STDs. Contact tracing is essential in fighting the next wave of pandemics. “It was started too late,” says Emily Gurley (an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins). Gurley created an online course to train contact tracers, which has attracted more than a million participants from all over the globe. The spring 2020 was the first time that state and local health officials started to prepare. However, they were hindered by a lack of readily available testing. Symptomless subjects were not recognized and their contacts were not informed. Government efforts to contact trace have fluctuated over time. They lacked the necessary testing to identify symptomless subjects and their contacts. Privacy concerns are common. WIRED reported that the US has largely abandoned the use of mobile apps for contact tracing. People complain about a “pingdemic” in the UK. They receive notifications from an app that is so sensitive that people in the next block might get a message, even though they have never been in the same room as the infected person. According to The Washington Post, 690,000. people in England and Wales received isolating notices within a week. Businesses complained that workers were staying home and couldn’t keep their doors open. Let’s just say that the apps are still in development.

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