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Because of the delay between infection and the onset of symptoms, people can become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and then pass it on to many others before they know they are infected and need to isolate themselves. The ability to identify and warn people who have been exposed to an infected person – known as contact tracking – is widely recognized as an integral part of any effective strategy to combat COVID-19. For this reason, it is extremely dismaying to see survey data showing that less than 3 in 10 Americans intend to use contact tracking apps to make this possible.
The data comes from an online survey of just over 2,000 people in the United States, conducted on June 1 by opinion research firm Opinion Matters on behalf of security firm Avira. When asked if they would like to download a contact tracking app, an overwhelming majority – 71 percent – answered no. Not only is that bad, it also seems to be deteriorating from the beginning of this year. In April, we conducted a survey that found that one in two Americans would probably or definitely not use a contact tracking app.
The greatest opposition to downloading a contact tracking app came from people over 55 years of age. Data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that people aged 55 and over have caused nearly 80 percent of US COVID 19 deaths to date.
It is a matter of trust
Respondents who answered "no" to the first question were asked to explain this decision using a multiple choice survey. The most common reason given was privacy concerns; Overall, 44 percent of those who said "no" to a contact tracking app said they would not trust the technology to protect their digital privacy. Almost as many (39 percent) said the apps created a false sense of security, and 37 percent said the apps would not slow the spread of the pandemic. 35 percent also indicated a lack of trust in the app providers.
Interestingly, this latest survey shows a significant divergence from April's results when it comes to organizations that people would trust to keep their COVID data private.
Two months ago, 57 percent said they trust public health authorities, 47 percent said insurance companies, and 43 percent said they trust big tech. However, in today's poll, only 32 percent said they trusted Google or Apple, and only 14 percent said they would trust the government to keep their data private. This suggests a significant deterioration in confidence in public health authorities like the CDC, even though the questions asked were not the same, and there may be some differences in the survey populations that make it difficult to accurately compare the surveys.
Unfortunately, distrust of public health and medical tools to fight the pandemic appears to be widespread in the United States. In recent weeks, other surveys have shown that only 50 percent of Americans say they are vaccinated against the disease, provided a vaccine is available. Coupled with seemingly politically motivated decisions to end public health restrictions at meetings, the pandemic is likely to result in a high death toll in the United States.