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DIY Contact Tracing Helps Stymie COVID-19 Spread

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 03 Nov 2020
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Image: A cognitive tool aids contact tracing efforts (Photo courtesy of FIU)
Image: A cognitive tool aids contact tracing efforts (Photo courtesy of FIU)
A new study shows how a web-based interview tool can improve a person’s ability to remember more events during the contact tracing process.

Developed at Florida International University (FIU; Miami, USA) and Iowa State University (Ames, USA), CogTracer applies cognitive psychology and an understanding of how memory works to help people recall and retrace their interactions, contacts, and activities. It is not intended to replace the official contact tracing interviews conducted by health departments and other organizations, but rather to empower people to quickly take personal responsibility for their contacts and communities by providing a tool to prompt their memory.

For example, CogTracer asks users to visualize themselves in certain places or times and provides clues or association words, such as “baby,” “exercise,” “rest,” and “uncomfortable” to help people list more contact names. CogTracer then asks them to write down a list of names, which they are encouraged to share with local health officials. CogTracer relies heavily on cognitive interview techniques, which help dive deeper into memory. For example, the interviewee might be asked to close their eyes to improve concentration, as well as to mentally place themselves back in a particular time and place.

“We developed this tool based on recent research we've conducted on the best ways to conduct contact tracing interviews,” said psychologist and jurist Professor Deborah Goldfarb, JD, PhD, who helped create CogTracer. “We think of it as a DIY contact tracing tool, because it allows you to do your own contact tracing on your own time from the privacy of your home.”

Contact tracing is a method used in the management of infectious disease outbreaks, which aims to interrupt chains of infection transmission (through quarantining contacts), and has formed part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many countries. It involves a person recalling recent close contacts and activities. Individuals who are deemed to be at risk of infection are then contacted and advised to take action to reduce onward transmission by self-quarantine for a specified time period.

Related Links:
Florida International University
Iowa State University


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