Bipartisan bill introduced to allow for digital contact tracing

Sen. Clynt Ridgell (PNC file photo)

Senator Clynton E. Ridgell has introduced Bill No. 387-35(COR) to amend the Public Health Emergency law to allow digital contact tracing for island residents to supplement the current contact tracing for COVID-19 and future diseases that warrant a public health emergency.

This bill garnered bipartisan support with co-sponsorship from Senator Jose “Pedo’” Terlaje, Senator Wil Castro, and Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes.

“Digital contact tracing applications are used in countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These countries have all contained COVID-19 far better than the United States has. These three countries are also our source markets for tourism. If we ever expect to get tourists to come back to Guam, then we will need to assure them that we are a safe destination. One way to accomplish this is to adopt the same practices that make them feel safe in their home countries,” said Senator Ridgell.

The bill seeks to allow for a modern solution for Guam residents to help prevent the spread of disease during a public health emergency. Under current law, contact tracing is done through interviews and lengthy phone calls and is reliant on the submission of data from public health officials. This bill will expand contact tracing capabilities, allowing DPHSS to provide persons under investigation for a disease the option to consent to using an app on their smartphone or other devices.

Senator Pedo’ Terlaje says, “Technology has been widely used by other countries to return to some form of normalcy. A robust contract tracing program will go a long way to instill trust with our source markets and allow for the reopening of the tourism industry in earnest.”

By using this app, DPHSS can waive the mandate for individuals to stay in a government quarantine facility. In exchange, the person must have their device on them at all times and allow the app to track their location. This will help to ensure that people placed under home quarantine are actually staying at home. Protections for privacy and accountability are also in this bill to ensure that all data collected from these apps are used ethically and only for permitted contact tracing purposes under the law.

“As we look at our neighbors in the region and their successes in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in their community, contact tracing through this app has been an invaluable tool,” says Speaker Muña Barnes, “Our island economy needs to rebound, we need to adjust to this new normal any way we can.”

DPHSS is currently using a mobile app for confirmed COVID-19 cases to report their symptoms. Collecting data for contact tracing can be done in a similar manner. This app, when implemented, will help track and slow the spread of COVID-19 and any other disease that causes a public health emergency in the future, keeping our island safe and its people healthy.

“Modernized contact tracing helps prevent the disease from spreading. An informed community is a safer community,” says Senator Wil Castro.