By the time you finish reading this article, another American will be dead from COVID-19. And three minutes later, another, and then another. Faced with a tidal wave of death unparalleled in modern history, we are rushing to put in place the public health solutions to track, trace, and treat this virus.
But as we have already seen, rushed solutions carry a higher price than expected. As states look to expand the most crucial part of this public health effort, contact tracing, the stakes couldn’t be higher, and unless we change course, America will hurtle to a public health disaster. That much is obvious. What is less clear is that it will also be a civil rights disaster.
Ideally, local and state contact tracers should reach out to every COVID-19 patient, asking about every person they’ve come into contact with for the past two weeks. In the hands of public health officials, this intimate data is absolutely necessary and will save lives. But if this same information is obtained by law enforcement agencies and ICE, it won’t just undermine our most important rights—it will set back the efforts to combat COVID-19.