The dark art of contact tracing
July 30, 2021 12:49 AM   Subscribe

"I asked for a world class team of contact tracers." In which Australians The Chaser make lemonade from pandemic lemons.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen (41 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's a fantastic sketch and it was everywhere in Australia when it came out.

It was written by Bec Shaw and Nina Oyama. Shaw posted this tweet yesterday about Chelsea Clinton retweeting the sketch, and Oyama's pinned tweet.
posted by davidwitteveen at 3:30 AM on July 30 [8 favorites]


Love the Chaser.

In Queensland we have the check-in app, it's a qr code reader you use at every location you go to. So if someone is found to be sick visited a location before you, you're notified that you need to be tested.

This has never been possible ever before in history. The best we've been able to do is narrow an outbreak down to a suburb, not Sharon at Woolie's at 3:15pm. It's a miracle of modern technology and we should crumble to our knees in gratitude beholden to the science that makes it possible. It will save lives, we've only had 8 people die in Queenland. Eight.

You would think people would embrace this rather trivial inconvenience considering it's benefits. Instead we have the most self-centred selfish fuckwits acting like it's the most cruel onerous burden ever imposed by a government. I can't imagine the ego, the self-involvement, that makes people think anyone in the government gives a shit that you went to Bunnings, Mike.
posted by adept256 at 3:37 AM on July 30 [26 favorites]


This is great. There was an early moment here where contact tracing seemed like a viable tool, but it mostly didn't get enough resources fast enough and then the outbreak grew beyond what contact tracing could reasonably follow.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


In Queensland we have the check-in app, it's a qr code reader you use at every location you go to.

Victoria has one of those too.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine the ego, the self-involvement, that makes people think anyone in the government gives a shit that you went to Bunnings, Mike.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal doesn't give you any cause for concern about politicians getting their hands on large volumes of constituent data?
posted by biffa at 7:18 AM on July 30 [5 favorites]


Yeah I can simultaneously think that the contact tracing app is worth it for public health AND be really concerned about the government collecting that data about me; I don't think anyone worrying about that is a paranoid nutjob and I think it's totally reasonable to want at minimum some guarantees about how the data can be used and when and how it will be deleted.
posted by an octopus IRL at 7:22 AM on July 30 [7 favorites]


Yeah, it does. But giving them access to that for contact tracing purposes is less bad than letting this fucking pandemic spread any faster than we can possibly help.
posted by flabdablet at 7:23 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Sure, I think this is a case where the public health concerns outweigh the privacy concerns, but I also think there ARE privacy concerns and it's reasonable to ask that, for example, contact tracing data not be shared with the law enforcement and that there is a guarantee it will be deleted after a certain period of time.
posted by an octopus IRL at 7:31 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Do the Australian contact tracing apps not follow the distributed standard of contact tracing apps used in North America? Like, they actually have a centralized database, not a Bluetooth, peer-to-peer setup? I could see where that would get a few more raised eyebrows.
posted by eviemath at 7:49 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Try it yourself? Maybe you have to proxy into Australia but it's called 'check in qld' in the app store.

You will notice that you can enter your name as Donald Duck, your address as 69 Quack St, and your phone number as 0420 666 666.

Likewise if you don't have your phone you need to write you details in a ledger, sort of a sign in book, where you can be as creative as you like.
posted by adept256 at 8:07 AM on July 30


I've had the Pennsylvania State contact tracing app installed for more than a year and it's yet to make a peep probably because no one else has ever heard of it or has it installed.
posted by octothorpe at 8:21 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Like, they actually have a centralized database, not a Bluetooth, peer-to-peer setup?

Yep. And they work by manually scanning a unique-per-site QR code off little posters that businesses are required to display, not by randomly trying to hook up with other devices that happen to be in Bluetooth range. Which makes me happy; I would much rather trust the Victorian State Government to keep its privacy promises with respect to my manually entered, unverified identity information and its associated movement data than have Bluetooth running in permanent listen mode on my phone.
posted by flabdablet at 8:42 AM on July 30 [7 favorites]


you can be as creative as you like

but if you actually want to be told when you've potentially been exposed to this filthy thing you're probably better off not being over-creative with the phone number.
posted by flabdablet at 8:43 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


And they work by manually scanning a unique-per-site QR code off little posters that businesses are required to display, not by randomly trying to hook up with other devices that happen to be in Bluetooth range

The UK has both of these systems. Quite a lot of people here are bailing on the app though, following what the papers call the pingdemic.
posted by biffa at 9:48 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]


Here in the US my wife just got recalled to her contact tracer job.
posted by doctornemo at 10:33 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


There are so many good lines in this, but "Think what a Leo would do in Scorpio season!!" and "You've internalized a lot of biphobia, it's common in men in your generation" are both way up there for me.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:48 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


I've had the Pennsylvania State contact tracing app installed for more than a year and it's yet to make a peep probably because no one else has ever heard of it or has it installed.

yeah had that one and Virginia. Nothing at all.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 12:39 PM on July 30


Checking in from Washington, where the contract tracing app was developed by a partnership University of Washington and Google.

Literally nobody uses it and I have had zero times it has alerted me to coming near a positive COVID case. (It alerts me every time Bluetooth gets turned off for even a moment, though. Cool?)

Also, I'm fairly sure that you have to get a QR code to put in to prove you are COVID positive, meaning you're literally requiring the people who use the app to choose to alert others to their COVID status.

Considering how many people walked around spreading COVID and trying to hide it like fucking idiots with zombie bites trying to hide their infection, I really struggle to think of the people who would actually go out of their way to do this.

So personal opinion, this is tracking jack shit.
posted by deadaluspark at 12:43 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]


Checking in from Washington, where the contract tracing app was developed by a partnership University of Washington and Google.
Literally nobody uses it and I have had zero times it has alerted me to coming near a positive COVID case. (It alerts me every time Bluetooth gets turned off for even a moment, though. Cool?)


Yeah, I ran it for a while, but after full vaccination I was tired of how aggressively it ate my phone battery (and it's not like I was heading out much, so it'd just suck down battery to let me know nobody in my apartment has reported a case) so I ended up tossing it.

With how many people in and around Seattle threatened to kill contact tracers at gunpoint, I really don't blame anyone for veering away from that.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:11 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Has anyone actually watched the video?
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:44 PM on July 30 [5 favorites]


let me know nobody in my apartment has reported a case

To be fair, if someone in my apartment reported a case, I'd really want to know that. Especially since I live alone.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:47 PM on July 30




In NZ we find the AU pandemic response an endless source of amusement. Also, the sketch is pretty great; the Tracies are awesome.
posted by phigmov at 2:09 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]


Western Australia has a check-in app as does New Zealand. Both places have very good contact tracing. NZ gets the edge over WA because the overall COVID communications strategy has been mind-blowingly good and because as far as I can tell they're not giving the data from the check-in app to the cops like WA has.

NSW's checkin app is annoying because you have to check in and out, and it's easy to forget to check out.

Sharing checkin data with the cops when you said you wouldn't is the best thing you can do to destroy the effectiveness of your COVID check-in app.
posted by rednikki at 2:53 PM on July 30 [9 favorites]


And back to the video: this is hilarious. Love The Chaser generally and this is ace.
posted by rednikki at 2:58 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


It's interesting comparing the essential optimism of this video from December 2020 with the latest satirical Government advertisment from The Juice: Hotel Quarantine & Vaccines.

(The Juice do great work, but I suspect they're too full of local political references to be comprehensible to non-Australians.)
posted by davidwitteveen at 4:06 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Before the QR codes, the federal government put out a Bluetooth proximity app, called COVID Safe, which is costing the country millions of dollars, ongoing, and, as I recall, managed to detect 17 cases. Take-up was optional, and has been very low, so useless. Also, independently developed, although both Apple and Google offered a jointly built development.

The QR codes, in NSW, as well, work, but there have been reports of police accessing the data for their own puposes or attempting to, so concerns there, yes.

Meanwhile, the Chaser has been quite good, but also Sammy J on SBS's The Feed:
Did You Miss Me?
posted by lipservant at 4:30 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]


My contact tracing app in CA has never gone off either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:45 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


The security genius of the New Zealand check-in app is that it doesn't upload any data at all. Your locations are one-way encrypted when they're stored on your phone; they can't even be transferred when you get a new phone. When there's an alert, the places of interest are pushed from the MoH down to each app, which compares those addresses (after encryption) against the list of locations it has stored.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 5:37 PM on July 30 [8 favorites]


Before the QR codes, the federal government put out a Bluetooth proximity app, called COVID Safe, which is costing the country millions of dollars, ongoing, and, as I recall, managed to detect 17 cases. Take-up was optional, and has been very low, so useless.

It doesn’t work. It never worked. The take up was always going to be irrelevant. But in any case, the government barely mentions it anymore and is now claiming that contact tracing is sooooo good that COVIDsafe isn’t needed, because it’s so powerful it’s only used in emergencies or some such bullshit.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:52 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Yeah I can simultaneously think that the contact tracing app is worth it for public health AND be really concerned about the government collecting that data about me; I don't think anyone worrying about that is a paranoid nutjob and I think it's totally reasonable to want at minimum some guarantees about how the data can be used and when and how it will be deleted.

Yeah, this has been a worry - a fair number of people I know stopped using the Check In QLD app after this incident: Queensland Police Service tightens internal protocols on COVID Check In app access after officers perform 'lawful' data search.
QPS
is notoriously shitty (especially with regards to domestic violence and abusing indigenous people), so I while I'll keep using the app, I kind of understand their position.
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 8:41 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I don't think the NSW one has been leaked to the cops yet, but it also doesn't surprise me that the two states that have been most sanctimonious about the more populous states that are more exposed to COVID having to lockdown are also the states that have let police access public health data.
posted by Merus at 9:40 PM on July 30


Tasmania has the Covid checkin app and the data is only stored for 28 days - so people are using it and there is always the option to sign in on paper at the entrance to commercial premises.

NSW started off well with its hotel quarantine - there were two classes of quarantine hotel - the regular hotels and then hotels run by NSW Health department which were properly sterilised etc.

When my youngest daughter was in school in Sydney in 2020, any time she was sick or absent, we had to get clear Covid tests for everyone who was a close contact before she could return to school. By April/May the testing process was well-organised with results in under 24 hours. Which meant that by August they were doing 30-40,000 tests a day with a spike in December of nearly 65,000 each for two days - and that capacity seems to have gone.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 10:44 PM on July 30


Trace Together is the name of the Singapore app and it's pretty much mandatory at this point. Everyone got issued a 'free' bluetooth enabled tracker so if you didn't want the app (bluetooth drains batteries although the app's performance has improved - but also people without phones, especially the elderly) running on your phone, you carry that around instead. They won't forbid kids from entering school if they don't have their tracker, but you get reminded to remind them. And you need it for entering pretty much every building and then individual shops/businesses. It pings off people nearby so you'll get an alert - I got one for being at a hospital the same time as a Covid case.

We all complied because, well, we're Singaporeans. But there was a minor row when it was revealed that the police HAD used it to trace people for murder cases, after the initial promise that no-one but covid trackers would get access. Now you can ask to delete yourself as a privacy exception and something like 10K people did.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:49 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]


If you enjoyed the Contact Tracys, The Foil Arms Hogg Vaccine Party might be your jam [cw: national stereotypes].
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:47 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


In NZ we find the AU pandemic response an endless source of amusement.

In every Australian State we find our State Government's pandemic response to be pretty reasonable and the Commonwealth Government's to be the exact kind of useless clown car parade you'd expect from anything with Scotty from Marketing at the wheel.

Morrison has been nothing but inept since the very beginning and his every public appearance since has confirmed the impression of a total incompetent utterly out of his depth and desperate to distract from that using fake, folksy "relatability". The contrast between the oozing empty suit Morrison and the fundamentally decent and competent Ardern could not be more stark.

That said, the single worst feature of Australia's pandemic response has been our hotel "quarantine" system. Not because it's particularly badly run for what it is, though there's obviously plenty to criticise there including the use of low-paid private "security" to provide nothing of the sort, but because it should have been immediately obvious to everybody involved that using commercial accommodation that doesn't run independent rooms at negative air pressure and doesn't HEPA filter the living shit out of every molecule to try to contain a highly contagious respiratory virus could never be anything more than a temporary measure. No, that's not hindsight. It's just physics.

Purpose-built quarantine facilities should have been going up, as a matter of urgency, from the day that the WHO declared the pandemic a pandemic. And since State Governments were flat out trying to contain contagion in their States by then, it should have been the Commonwealth Government doing that.

The fact that we're still relying on hotels to quarantine returning Australians is just farcical, as are Morrison's ongoing "no measure can be 100% perfect" defences of that farce.
posted by flabdablet at 2:31 AM on July 31 [7 favorites]


Also, having just now watched the Honest Government Ad on Quarantine & Vaccinations linked above by davidwitteveen (thank you!), I'm linking it again because it's so totally and completely on-point.

The Juice do great work, but I suspect they're too full of local political references to be comprehensible to non-Australians

If The Chaser and The Juice Media are your only sources of knowledge about Australian politics, you count as well-informed in my book.
posted by flabdablet at 3:02 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


In every Australian State we find our State Government's pandemic response to be pretty reasonable [...]

It's been pretty flawed here in Victoria. There are the quarantine hotels, for one; and the private "security" officers who let internees go off to do their shopping while supposedly in quarantine. Also IIRC one officer was actually having sex with someone in quarantine. And we had hard borders to prevent people entering from infected areas, but apparently that doesn't apply if you're driving a van full of furniture, because pallets and containerisation aren't a thing even during a pandemic.

There have been so many really obvious stupid own goals both here and in NSW, and there has been absolutely zero responsibility taken for any of them. In fact, we held an inquiry as to who made the decision to use private security guards to maintain quarantine instead of police or soldiers. The people at the meeting included the premier, the chief of police, and a bunch of senior civil servants. Apparently the decision wasn't minuted and nobody can recall who made it. By comparison to many countries, our government looks good. But this epidemic has shown that too frequently they act like an ill-educated a-scientific, cowardly bunch of self-important grandstanders.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:14 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


The security genius of the New Zealand check-in app is that it doesn't upload any data at all. Your locations are one-way encrypted when they're stored on your phone; they can't even be transferred when you get a new phone. When there's an alert, the places of interest are pushed from the MoH down to each app, which compares those addresses (after encryption) against the list of locations it has stored.

That's not strictly true, as I understand it you can upload your phone's contents to the MoH (there are buttons right there under "If you have been exposed") - but at your choice - both your scanned QR codes and your bluetooth contacts - the idea is that if you become a traceable contact you can choose to provide your data, but the govt doesn't keep a central database of every scan/contact and can't force you to upload your data.

I think it's a great privacy compromise, my only complaint would be that the source is not available for public review.
posted by mbo at 7:33 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Uh, the source code for New Zealand's Covid Tracer app is here.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:10 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]


oooh excellent! thanks
posted by mbo at 9:57 PM on July 31


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