Cellphone GPS tracking could help stop the spread of coronavirus

If your first thought on the link between cellphones and coronavirus is to get the disinfectant out, you’d be doing the right thing, but you’d also be missing something very important. Cellphone GPS tracking is a simple way to track and monitor the spread of coronavirus.

It’s not as “out there” as it might seem – in fact, some governments in Asia have already given it a try, often with a great degree of success.

A website built to share research by a team from the University of Oxford proclaims it is possible to stop the epidemic by leveraging both location data and contact data. It is recognized that coronavirus can be stopped from spreading by isolating people, as the virus doesn’t move itself and needs people to move around to propagate it. If you can find out where the infected people are, you can slow or stop the spread of the disease.

A Cellphone GPS Tracking Database

The movements of people would first need to be tracked with a GPS tracking database, but this could be decentralized. Imagine, for example, an app on your phone that is specifically designed to track a pandemic.

If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, the app shares your recent movement data with health officials, and pings every other app, informing them of where you have been. This won’t share any personal information with other users of the app, but if those users have been in the same area as you, they’ll be advised to isolate or get tested.

Cellphone GPS tracking at this level will therefore help to protect those who may be infected or capable of spreading the illness to others. Many countries around the world are already using or trialing such systems, including South Korea. The system in place there uses cellphone GPS tracking to send alerts to nearby uses that say, “There is a person in your area who has tested positive for COVID-19”, and will provide a link that shows recent locations that person has been in.

Cellphone GPS Tracking vs Contact Alerts

At first glance, the ideal method for finding which people to isolate is to examine the contacts on the cellphone of a person who has tested positive for coronavirus and isolate all those people too. This is based on the theory that most contacts are personally known to the patient and will be seen in physical locations too. However, the chances are that the many contacts are only called or sent messages rather than meeting up regularly.

By using cellphone GPS tracking, you can find out who has actually been close by, whether they are contacts or not. You might not have your next-door neighbor on speed dial, but you might say hello or high five them every morning, which can be a perfect method for transmitting coronavirus.

Apps are in development to aid the tracking of many diseases, not just coronavirus. With a unified system in place it will become easier to use cellphone GPS tracking to follow diseases around the world, and potentially make it much easier to stem the spread and maintain the health or people worldwide.