May 1, 2020
Maverick Health Policy
Only What Matters on Health Information Policy News
Maverick Health Policy is starting to grow weary of this COVID-19 issue dominating every health policy discussion. We look forward to more traditional policy drama. Alas, we must explore how to “get back to normal” first.
How Do We “Re-open America”? We do a lot more testing, and then we share the testing data so we can track the spread of the virus. That’s what the new White House Testing Blueprint and Testing Overview says, which is also the first step of 10 steps named by the National Governors Association in their “Roadmap to Recovery.” Of course, this is exactly what former officials have been recommending for a while now.
The Key to Re-Opening Is Technology to Share Data. Just when the CDC issued guidelines on how to gradually re-open places where people gather like schools and churches, some Senators are trying to make sure the CDC has more money to modernize its public health data sharing. Last week, other Senators asked the CDC to use the money ($1B) in the last economic relief package to move forward with its plans to build a better public health data collection system. See here for Maverick’s reporting on the inadequate funding Congress offered last year for the CDC’s Public Health Data Modernization Initiative. Anticipating the emphasis on data sharing, the CDC is looking for a Chief Data Officer - a new position. The FDA also had plans to modernize its use of technology and data in its regulatory decision-making -- which they planned to discuss on March 27 but they rescheduled the public meeting for June 30.
Privacy Concerns. To re-open America, companies and governments are planning on collecting a lot more information about people — mostly via various technologies in development that will track people's virus exposure. Delta Airlines said it may require "immunity passports," employers are entitled to mandate that workers (at least) get their temperature taken at the workplace (see EEOC guidance for employers here), and Palantir, the surveillance firm credited with helping to find Osama bin Laden and founded by conservative billionaire Peter Thiel, reportedly has a contract with the federal government to build a database tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus around the country.
One Thoughtful Paragraph
Should COVID-19-related contact tracing be mandatory? As far back as March 17, the Wall Street Journal was reporting on how to weigh privacy concerns with necessary government tracking of a viral outbreak, and The Atlantic keeps publishing thoughtful articles about the tradeoffs. Proponents of location-tracking and contact-tracing technology believe that it could help end the pandemic more quickly. Some cybersecurity experts question the utility of tracking tools during pandemics. See here, here. To be sure, the tracking is already happening -- this New Yorker article explains how a network of infectious disease epidemiologists at universities around the world are working with technology companies to aggregate mobility data, including Camber Systems’ “Social Distancing Reporter” which allows the public to see, county by county, where people are moving around. And the Apple and Google partnership tracing tool is well underway -- but that app uses "decentralized" technology that stores information on individuals' phones, unless they opt to send it to health authorities. This is causing smart people to ask whether contact tracing can be effective if people choose not to opt-in. See here, here. This week, the Washington Post suggested that countries with “greater trust in their government” will be better equipped than America to manage the privacy tradeoff debate, which was right before a new federal privacy bill “COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act” was introduced -- requiring tracing apps to allow people to opt-in and opt-out at any time.