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Contact tracing: So promising. So invasive

Dr. Kevin Esvelt, Biologist

It’s one of the best weapons we have to contain a pandemic. But can it defeat the disease without spying on people who might carry it? MIT’s Kevin Esvelt has a bold idea: Let’s try a new form of contact tracing that could more than double the program’s impact. Bi-directional tracing looks both forward and backward from a known transmission, building a chart of the “undiscovered branches of the viral family tree” and identifying potential spreaders other systems can’t see. But how much of our data are we willing to give the government, even if it’s to fight Covid-19?


“Do we really want to know exactly what it takes to turn a given virus into a human pandemic? Because if we learn that, and we disclose it, we are telling everyone how to make a new pandemic.”

— Kevin Esvelt, MIT