In a bid to help healthcare systems properly track the spread of coronavirus, high-profile tech companies such as Apple and Google are offering their services. Their proposal involves a software update that will allow smartphones to gather and transmit data related to potential COVID-19 infections. In concept, this process should streamline contact tracing and alert users if they are within the vicinity of an individual with reported symptoms. However, it appears that some healthcare pundits believe the platform has its flaws.

Ideally, if people follow the directions issued by public health officials and isolate themselves within their homes, transmissions of SARS-CoV-2 will drastically slow down. Unfortunately, once essential supplies run out, most will be prompted to step out to purchase whatever is needed. In a perfect scenario, handsets will rely on GPS and Bluetooth to determine if the owner is in close proximity with possible carriers of the virus.

It might seem easy to execute, but there are certain limitations that can affect its reliability. One that was pointed out has something to do with the communication delays with Bluetooth. Another is a scenario wherein a carrier might cough or sneeze when passing by the user and there is no way to detect it in real-time. Therefore, others suggest that people should consult with actual medical professionals instead, as reported by ABC News.

Former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and current CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, Tom Frieden offered his opinion wherein he indicated: "Fundamentally, contact tracing is about people helping people." He likewise added that "contact tracing is about building a human bond between someone who wants to help and support patients and their contacts, and society more broadly."

Novel coronavirus
South Korean nurses wearing protective gear pose as they start their shift to care for patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Daegu -- the country reported zero new infections for the first time . Photo: AFP / Jung Yeon-je

Frieden likewise acknowledged that going the traditional route will require a lot of resources, which is difficult in the current scenario. Moreover, it is likewise labour-intensive compared to digital alternatives. This potentially presents a major roadblock in the global efforts against COVID-19. On the other hand, related reports are highlighting some purported breakthroughs in clinical trials for drugs and vaccines that are shown to be effective against the coronavirus.