Tracing apps may stem COVID-19 spread even when only a few use them – study

An app used by 15% of the population together with a well-staffed contact-tracing workforce can lead to a 15% drop in infection rates and an 11% drop in COVID-19 deaths, according to statistical modeling by the Alphabet Inc unit and Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine. The researchers simulated the spread of COVID-19 based on interactions at homes,…

By Vishwadha Chander

Sept 3 (Reuters) – Contact tracing apps can sharply reducethe spread of the novel coronavirus even when only a few peopleuse them, a study published on Thursday by researchers at Googleand Oxford University showed.

An app used by 15% of the population together with awell-staffed contact-tracing workforce can lead to a 15% drop ininfection rates and an 11% drop in COVID-19 deaths, according tostatistical modeling by the Alphabet Inc unit and Oxford’sNuffield Department of Medicine.

With a 15% uptake of contact tracing apps alone, theresearchers calculated an 8% reduction in infections and 6%reduction in deaths.

The findings were based on data from a digital tracingsystem similar to one jointly developed by Google and Apple Inc.

The app made by the two tech giants tracks interactionsthrough Bluetooth signals and anonymously notifies a person ifsomeone they met contracts COVID-19.

Six U.S. states and about two dozen countries have launchedexposure notification apps based on the Apple-Google technologyin recent weeks without major hitches.

The researchers simulated the spread of COVID-19 based oninteractions at homes, offices, schools and social gatherings inWashington State’s King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

“We see that all levels of exposure notification uptakelevels in the UK and the U.S. have the potential to meaningfullyreduce the number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations anddeaths across the population,” Christophe Fraser, the study’sco-lead author and group leader in Pathogen Dynamics at OxfordUniversity’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, said in astatement.

The researchers noted that a contact tracing app is not astand-alone intervention. They also said their model stillrepresents a “dramatic simplification of the real world”, anddoes not take into account cross-county movement of peoplecontributing to disease spread.

The research has not been peer-reviewed.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; editing by PeterHenderson and David Gregorio)

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