To reopen business and society after the COVID-19 lockdown a fine-grained approach is required to selectively enable movement for people. Right now, governments and organizations around the world are working on technology solutions for tracing contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and enforcing quarantine for those people (also for new arrivals to the country). These tools leverage several technologies to track location including GPS, Bluetooth and cell tower triangulation among others. A growing number of apps are being developed using Bluetooth proximity to trace contacts such as TraceTogether from Singapore. In Hong Kong, an app named StayHomeSafe is used in conjunction with a wristband to ensure people under quarantine do not leave their homes.
Focus on Proactive not Just Reactive Measures
While contact tracing and quarantine enforcement are important methods to reduce further COVID-19 infections, these approaches are reactive not proactive. They are effective to reduce transmission after a person has tested positive for coronavirus, but they do not change behaviors to reduce the risk of catching the virus in the first place. In addition to these reactive measures, proactive measures to change behaviors are needed to reopen businesses and society. Proactive measures enable people to actively participate in reducing the spread of COVID-19 to themselves and to the community. Proactive measures put people in control.
Use Gamification to Change Behaviors
Gamification has been proven to engage and motivate people to change behaviors. Just look at the millions of people that count their steps every day. In my book GAMIFY I detail how gamification has been used to help people to lose weight, quit smoking, improve fitness, correct posture, manage personal finances, take medication and improve memory, to name just a few examples. Gamification changes lives.
Put People in Control
Gamification can be used to minimize the risk of future infections by nudging people to practice social distancing and good hygiene. Simply counting the number of contacts by using Bluetooth proximity on an app would provide people with a ‘score’ to encourage people to practice social distancing. Apps could even exchange their users risk levels to get a more meaningful risk score – with a greater weight placed on spending more time with high risk people. It would motivate people to make wiser choices like choosing to meet friends for a walk in the park rather than sitting in a busy restaurant, or to go grocery shopping when the supermarket is not busy.
Manage Risk Through Screening
In addition to maintaining a low risk score to minimize personal risk of getting COVID-19, it could also be used for screening to ‘reward’ people who are lower risk with access to buildings and public transport. China has already implemented this in many cities with an app named “Health Code” that people use to display their ‘badge’ or QR code (green, yellow or red) to gain access to buildings and services. While badges are great indicators of success, this could be improved by having a more granular risk score similar to a credit rating, where medium risk individuals would gain access to supermarkets and pharmacies, people with a low risk score would gain access to restaurants and fitness centers. People who are very careful in terms of social distancing and achieve an ultralow score could ‘unlock’ a visit to see their grandmother at the retirement home. Individuals with a high-risk score would have difficulty gaining access to any buildings and services, effectively forcing them into a personal lockdown.
There are potential drawbacks that are relatively easy to overcome:
1. Not everyone has a smartphone, but a Bluetooth tracker similar to a Tile device (less than $25) could be used instead of a smartphone.
2. Providing equitable access to buildings and transportation for people like health care workers and police who are forced to interact with people throughout their workday. A simple solution would be to provide such workers with ‘infinite health’ so they can gain access to basic services, as their higher risk is a community cost rather than a personal choice.
3. Privacy concerns can be mitigated through privacy by design principles. In Europe, a group of scientists, technologists and health experts (PEPP-PT) are working to develop methods to preserve privacy in contact tracing. A survey conducted by the University of Oxford indicates there is broad support in Europe for installing an app for contact tracing on their phones.
4. As these measures have a significant impact on daily lives, transparency in the algorithms that calculate risk scores is critical to ensure people trust the algorithms are fair and unbiased.
Technology provides the only scalable solution for reactive measures including contact tracing and quarantine enforcement, but I would also encourage the designers of COVID-19 apps to use gamification to implement proactive measures to change behaviors that will reduce the spread of the virus.