EDITOR’S NOTE: Abigail (not her real name) is a hospice nurse in San Diego. Her cousin, who she references herein, is a Chinese citizen and a resident of Suzhou, a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, and he contributed to this article by describing Quick Response (QR) coding, an application for tracking and identification.

The City of Hangzhou’s City Council enforced health QR coding, including real-name registration and contact tracing, on Feb. 9, 2020. One week later, other Chinese jurisdictions, including Zhejiang, Sichuan, and Hainan Province, also implemented the same procedure.

The app they used is called Alipay. It registers names, addresses, age, gender, workplace, health status, and symptoms daily, including temperature, cough, fatigue, and so on. The application also tracks the locations where patients have been. People have to answer simple questions every day: a system called “healthy punches.” The QR code changes color, depending on the answers to the questions – for example, if a patient has a fever or symptoms, or was in a place known to be a “hot zone,” the code will change to yellow or red. Yellow means that this person needs seven days of isolation and must continue seven days of “healthy punches” until the code returns back to green. If, however, the QR code changes to red, it means patient will have to remain in isolation for 14 days and continue 14 days of “healthy punches,” in order for QR code to turn green.

There are legal requirements for these answers to be truthful and punctual. Untruthful answers can result in prosecutions and fines. Such a plan requires the public to work together and follow the protocols.

During this pandemic, everyone will need to work together to control and stop the spread of COVID-19. The utilization of QR coding will help trace the steps of everyone and isolate possible cases as necessary, educate the public of the severity of the virus, and of symptoms to look for, and also instruct on what to do if symptoms start. For most people, it’s lack of information that’s causing the spread of the virus. By acknowledging who is at risk and what people need to do, the spreading will slow down and eventually be contained.

My personal family member, Stephen, is in Suzhou, in Eastern China. When I asked how he feels about QR coding, he said its use helps to identify, isolate, and contain whoever may be at risk or been exposed to the virus. He said QR coding is the key to stop any spread of infection. He personally has not been exposed, but is willing to comply with any protocols and regulations that are associated with contact tracing – and, if necessary, monitor others in correctly utilizing this system.

My personal experience with being exposed to the virus was through my work as a hospice nurse. The individual I came into contact with had been diagnosed with the virus – of which I was unaware – after testing positive.

I was concerned and worried, constantly thinking about the possibility of contracting the virus. Yet when I got the test result back, it was negative. I didn’t know how to feel. But the three days of waiting for the test results were the longest three days in my life.

Had we had contact tracing in this country, we would be able to identify that this patient had been to an area with identified cases and would trace it back to the database, thus limiting anyone from contacting him and safely avoiding more exposures.

Prevention is always the key – not aggressive treatment, not expensive and harmful antivirals or antibiotics. It’s a healthy body that so many people are taking granted. And still, so many people are not taking this pandemic seriously. To think what the virulence needs to be to cause a global pandemic, the public should be very cautious, and not use denial as an excuse. And once again, this is preventable. 

Although a lot of concerns will rise around security and privacy, during this process, the database should be protected by laws and regulations to provide security for the information provided. Using as limited information as possible, and for tracking purposes only, eliminating the concerns of the public and correctly registering the information into the system and database, the full benefit of the program will be realized, making it possible to identify potential cases faster and more accurately.

Lastly, using the coding and contact tracing is the key to stopping this pandemic – and hopefully, in the near future, we will see the light at end of the tunnel and look back and say: we did our part.

For more reporting on contact tracing from RACmonitor read ‘Contact Tracing and the Constitutional Right to Privacy’ by Edward Roche, PhD, JD.

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