Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Uber has launched a service that enables public health officials to access the data of their drivers and commuters. It is a mechanism that would improve the speed of contact tracing if one of the commuters have been infected with COVID-19.
This particular service is given for free. It is also a highly effective means of marketing and re-branding the ride-hailing company.
Uber also launched the “No Mask, No Ride” policy throughout the United States alongside with its contact-tracing program.
Health officials are already promoting the innovative service given by Uber. With such a platform, any country and state department will be allowed to access the data of those individuals who have used Uber rides and services. The data can be used to compel any users that have been contracted by the virus to do self-quarantine and isolation.
Accordingly, the information to a particular Uber user can be accessed within an hour.
Meanwhile, Uber is also considering COVID-19 as a type of emergency since it involves death and other forms of injuries.
Uber has been providing relevant user information for months already since the outbreak started. However, it is admitted that the data were not properly utilized in most of the virus hotspots in the United States.
Reuters has conducted a recent review of the contact tracing policies of thirty-two (32) states in the country. It has been found out that the local health departments are not using the data being provided by Uber to track the spread of the virus. Those states that have ignored the data are Florida and Texas. These two states are the current hotspots for new coronavirus infections.
As of now, the United States has no program or mobile platform that helps in the tracking of people that have been infected by the coronavirus, which is pretty surprising. After all, it is a measure that has been mandated by the World Health Organization in dealing with the pandemic.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet made a comment regarding this matter.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen states in the country have been hiring thousands of workers for contact tracing and interviewing of infected patients. It is a rigorous process, as they have to identify these “primary” individuals and ensure that they will divulge their travel history and those whom they have contact with. The goal here is to enforce isolation to these affected people.
Of course, such efforts would benefit from data-driven systems like the one that Uber is offering. Even health officials and medical experts yield to the fact that manual effort is taxing and laborious. The data that can be generated on computers is capable of identifying a bigger number of people. It further expands to the primary social circles of the individuals that have been infected.
Mieka Smart, a professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University, said that comprehensive data is extremely important in areas where people use transport services like Uber.
“This data could be potentially life-saving in cities where many people use those services,” Smart said. The latter is also a member of the contact tracing personnel for COVID-19 in Flint.
Uber officials said that their company has been providing the necessary data to law enforcement departments and officials in the United States to properly address criminal investigations and emergencies. It was just in 2019 when the company had extended its data service to health-related concerns. During that year, there’s a resurgence in measles cases in the United States. Local health department sought for relevant data to inhibit the spread of the said disease.
January this year, Uber executives went to Los Angeles for a meeting with the CDC officials and the local health department. They discussed how the data of Uber could be properly utilized, according to Mike Sullivan, the global law enforcement chief of the said ride-hailing company.
In this discussion, the novel coronavirus was already included, even if it is just starting to spread outside the borders of China.
“Our timing ended up being beneficial in that it allowed us to get ahead before COVID started ramping up globally,” Sullivan said.
In the first part of 2020, Uber already received approximately 560 coronavirus-related requests from different countries in the world. The company accepts these requests; the processing time usually takes two hours.