Contact Tracing in an Era of Mistrust

Contact Tracing in an Era of Mistrust

Contact Tracing in an Era of Mistrust

The latest in the Wuhan Bat Lab Virus saga is the new goalpost being established in states about contact tracing. States, like California, are announcing the hiring of thousands of new state employees that need to be in place before allowing us out of house arrest.

To be sure, contact tracing of communicable diseases has been one of the historical, normative functions of local public health departments. It’s been done for SARS and HIV; however, such tracing, which involves interviewing people and persuading them to reveal where they’ve gone and who they have had contact with, depends on one thing currently in short supply.


The fabulously coiffed Gavin Newsom, aka California’s Gov. Karen, wants 10,000 new state employees to help out current levels of tracers. He first announced this on April 22 and has made it one of the prerequisites to allowing reopening of the economy. Funny, though, search as I might, I didn’t find any posting of these so-called vital jobs on the CA state job site. Excuse me if Newsom’s commitment to actually letting Californians out of house arrest anytime soon appears less than credible.

In another move sure to inspire trust, TN’s Gov. Bill Lee attempted to justify the release to law enforcement of names and addresses of positive COVID19 Tennesseans.

Lee told reporters at Second Harvest Food Bank in Nashville on Friday the details are only for those working “from a law enforcement standpoint” to know who has tested positive.

“We believe that that’s appropriate to protect the lives of law enforcement,” Lee said when asked why police need the information.


LEOs, like nurses and doctors, run the risk of exposure to any number of communicable diseases on a daily basis. Certainly, the names and addresses of anyone with TB, measles, or HIV aren’t lurking in law enforcement databases. Right? And how serious are LEOs actually taking this crisis when they run down Wuhan shutdown scofflaws with nary a mask or glove in sight?

Yet not only are states marshalling “armies” of contact tracers,

State governments are building armies of contact tracers in a new phase of the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, returning to a fundamental practice in public health that can at once wrestle the virus under control and put hundreds of thousands of newly jobless people back to work.

… we find the usual statist suspects demanding a nationalized tracing program.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) have proposed adding a massive nationwide federal contact tracing program to the next round of coronavirus-related relief funding. In a nod to the New Deal-style scale such a program would require, they call the program the Coronavirus Containment Corps.

The yearning for the fjords of FDR unlimited government meddling is great, never mind his policies deepened and prolonged the Great Depression.

But give those with an authoritarian itch something to scratch, they’ll take it every time.

Needless to say, Ventura County scrambled to clarify those remarks in statements that would do Emily Litella proud

“I either misspoke or it was misinterpreted – I’ll take the blame of having misspoke,” Levin said. “Yesterday, at this conference, at the Board of Supervisors, I gave people the impression that if you were isolated, you would be taken out of your home and put into a hotel room or a motel room or sequestered in some other way.”

Sure, impression. It’s not just that this guy with the power to have you removed from your home misspoke but that no one else in the room, including the Board of Supervisors, caught and corrected his error in speaking right then and there.

And we haven’t even gotten to the issue of Google and Apple rushing like crazy to develop tracing apps with their usual disclaimer reassuring us the information will be “anonymized”. Uh, hello, no such thing. It’s one of the reasons why you should seriously think about leaving your cellphone at home if you leave the house.

When Gov. Jared Polis on March 25 implored Coloradans to observe the stay-at-home order he had issued earlier that week, he let slip a tiny detail that’s had privacy experts on edge ever since: The state was relying on cellphone tracking data to determine whether residents were complying.

“We’re also looking at the different data that is available,” Polis said during the press conference update. “Metadata, which means data through data partners that include things like people that are moving around with cellphones, and how much they are moving when people are pinged.”

I want public health departments to do their job. I want people to feel enough trust in their local officials to actually cooperate with interviews so we can make sure positive individuals can get to their doctors quickly and get the early treatment.

But our Ruling Class betters are not exactly covering themselves in glory here.

For any government based on individual rights and liberty, the success of its institutions depends on both a high trust society and the willingness of individuals to cooperate with them. Hence, the more irrational and unreasonable the dictates of authorities, the more individuals will engage in disobedience and defiance.

Whether it is rogue hair-cutting or open mocking of the closure of “public” beaches, this is all an indication of government overstepping its authority. Obviously, the lessons of the Prohibition Era have been lost.

And along with it, one of the hardest things to recover after it has been broken: Trust. At this rate, contact tracing may be over before it even starts.

featured image, cropped, Adobe Stock, standard license

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1 Comment
  • GWB says:

    Funny that two of the things needed to have the trust you’re talking about in a free republic are a gov’t limited in power and a people who govern themselves (aka taking responsibility for one’s own actions and living a moral life) are BOTH things that the progressives set out to destroy.

    Odd that, eh?

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