Bluetooth Signals From Your Smartphone Could Automate Covid-19 Contact Tracing While Preserving Privacy
A system that enables smartphones to transmit “chirps” to nearby devices could notify people if they have been near an infected person, say researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Imagine you’ve been diagnosed as Covid-19 positive. Health officials begin contact tracing to contain infections, asking you to identify people with whom you’ve been in close contact. The obvious people come to mind — your family, your coworkers. But what about the woman ahead of you in line last week at the pharmacy, or the man bagging your groceries? Or any of the other strangers you may have come close to in the past 14 days?
A team led by MIT researchers and including experts from many institutions is developing a system that augments “manual” contact tracing by public health officials, while preserving the privacy of all individuals. The system relies on short-range Bluetooth signals emitted from people’s smartphones. These signals represent random strings of numbers, likened to “chirps” that other nearby smartphones can remember hearing.
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is using cybersecurity software to protect individual privacy involved in contact tracing.
The healthcare process of identifying who traveled close to contagious patients, known as contact tracing, typically assumes a lack of privacy — but NJIT cybersecurity expert Kurt Rohloff said his software is a good match to fix this.
Rohloff is known in the computer security field for his work in homomorphic encryption, which is a method of processing private information without decrypting it or exposing the sensitive parts. The method has roots in defense and intelligence applications, but is also useful for healthcare and the COVID-19 pandemic, he observed, in a recent United Nations Global Summit webinar series called AI For Good
.Working on data without decrypting it tends to sacrifice some speed, however, “Contact tracing provides a much more quick and [more] effective response than potentially locking down a country if done early enough,” said Rohloff, director of NJIT’s Cybersecurity Research Center. “It’s intended to be a less-painfulstep … but it is very, very privacy-intensive.”
Experts from the University of California San Francisco Explain How Contact Tracing Will End the Coronavirus Pandemic
For all the anticipation around new COVID-19 tests, therapeutics and vaccines, public health experts know that the end of the pandemic will depend also on a low-tech, tried-and-true tactic – contact tracing.
Contact tracing sounds simple: alert anyone who has been in contact with an infected person and prevent them from spreading the disease to others. Yet contact tracing involves a tailored plan for each disease and a dedicated workforce with investigative know-how and people skills. California Gov. Gavin Newsom included the ability to contact trace among the indicators for loosening state-wide stay-at-home orders. To ramp up contact tracing for COVID-19 in San Francisco, UC San Francisco has been partnering with the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) to provide technical assistance, training and manpower.
University of Southern California researchers’ answer to contact mapping and risk analysis
A holistic platform, PREP includes contact mapping and risk analysis that are complementary to any contact-tracking app. The initial work on risk analysis and privacy is already funded by an NSF RAPID grant.
The University of Washington’s Northwest Center for Public Heath Practice has created the free, online course Every Contact Counts
As businesses and public spaces reopen across the nation, the old-school public health detective work known as contact tracing is becoming a major component of the battle to contain the novel coronavirus that causes the deadly COVID-19 disease. It’s an investigative strategy long used for finding and informing people exposed to contagious diseases, such as measles and STDs, and now agencies across the country focused on combating the pandemic need support to expand their workforce to conduct contact-tracing interviews and save lives. To provide training for this expanding workforce, the University of Washington’s Northwest Center for Public Health Practice created the free, online course Every Contact Counts to support public health agencies — including smaller, rural public health districts and tribal health departments — to help their existing and growing workforce in the art and science of conducting a contact-tracing interview.
A team of scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group has taken the next step towards the discovery of a safe, effective and accessible vaccine against COVID-19.
Trial results indicate no early safety concerns and induces strong immune responses in both parts of the immune system.
The University of Oxford is working with the UK-based global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the further development, large-scale manufacture and potential distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, with plans for clinical development and production of the Oxford vaccine progressing globally. The project has been further spurred by £84 million of Government funding to help accelerate the vaccine’s development.
“These encouraging results support further evaluation of this candidate vaccine in our ongoing large scale Phase III programme, that is still needed to assess the ability of the vaccine to protect people from COVID-19.”
New research from several studies in Spain indicate that Covid-19 is causing a wide range of disorders in the nervous system and may be directly attacking the brain
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus attacks the respiratory system, but there is growing evidence that it also affects the nervous system. Several studies based on thousands of Spanish patients show that most of these individuals developed at least one neurological problem. This manifested itself in a wide range of symptoms, ranging from headaches to comatose states. In a percentage of cases, neurological conditions were even the principal cause of death. Although these symptoms have been attributed to the body’s excessive immune response to Covid-19, some research indicates that the virus is directly attacking the brain.
The Spanish Neurology Association (SEN) has collated the most recent studies carried out in Spain on the connection between the coronavirus, the brain and the entire nervous system. The research is varied; it includes investigations on how the virus changes a person’s sense of smell and taste, research on headaches in infected healthcare workers, and a study into strokes in 1,600 patients with Covid-19.
But the most significant piece of research is a registry called Albacovid, which studies the neurological conditions observed in 841 coronavirus patients in two hospitals in Albacete in the Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha during the peak of the crisis in March. The results, published in the specialist journal Neurology a few weeks ago, show that 57% of these patients developed one or several neurological symptoms.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota report that for early treatment of mild COVID-19, the malaria drug performs no better than placebos
Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School have published the results from the first randomized clinical trial testing hydroxychloroquine for the early treatment of mild COVID-19 among persons who are not hospitalized.
Hydroxychloroquine did not decrease the severity of COVID-19 symptoms over 14 days any better than a placebo, the trial results show. In addition, there was no benefit in faster resolution of symptom severity among those who also took zinc or vitamin C with either hydroxychloroquine or placebo.
“The partners in this endeavor — University of Wisconsin researchers, a biotech startup, and an international vaccine developer — are moving forward with a sense of urgency and integrity incumbent upon us as scientists and world citizens.” – Erik Iverson
An international collaboration of virologists at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the vaccine companies FluGen and Bharat Biotech has begun the development and testing of a unique vaccine against COVID-19 called CoroFlu.
CoroFlu will build on the backbone of FluGen’s flu vaccine candidate known as M2SR. Based on an invention by UW–Madison virologists and FluGen co-founders Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Gabriele Neumann, M2SR is a self-limiting version of the influenza virus that induces an immune response against the flu. Kawaoka’s lab will insert gene sequences from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, into M2SR so that the new vaccine will also induce immunity against the coronavirus.
Refinement of the CoroFlu vaccine concept and testing in laboratory animal models at UW–Madison is expected to take three to six months. Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, India will then begin production scale-up for safety and efficacy testing in humans. CoroFlu could be in human clinical trials by the fall of 2020.