Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Officials Consider New Screenings to Slow Pandemic

Medic holds up thermometer to patient outside military clinic
Airman 1st Class Taylor D. Slater/86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A U.S. Air Force airman takes a patient’s temperature at Ramstein Air Base in Germany last month. (U.S. Air Force/Creative Commons)

State health officials are considering deploying blood and temperature tests as well as smartphone apps to determine “who is allowed to do what” once Virginia’s stay at home order is lifted, Secretary of Health Daniel Carey said on Monday.

Carey emphasized the options were still tentative as state officials plan for the next phase of the pandemic.

But he said officials need a better system to monitor future outbreaks once social distancing guidelines have been eased.

“How to do that in a complex, open society like the U.S. and in Virginia in a nuanced and responsible way -- we've got to develop that,” Carey told reporters on Monday.

The toolkit to contain the outbreak as society reopens has yet to be developed, Carey said. Some countries, like Singapore and South Korea, have turned to location-tracking apps and wristbands to monitor infected people. Google and Apple are jointly  designing their own tool.

Meanwhile, Italy is weighing whether to use antibody tests to determine who might be immune to the virus.

All of those efforts have raised concerns with privacy and civil liberty advocates, including the Virginia ACLU.

“One of those little nuances [Carey’s] referring to is the Constitution,” said Claire Gastañaga, the organization’s executive director. “We don’t want the Constitution to be a casualty of the war on COVID-19.”

Carey said in a statement that the state isn't committing to a particular approach.

"We are simply thinking through any and all tools and strategies to open up as fast as we can while being safe," Carey said.

Carey’s remarks come as researchers at the University of Virginia released a new model showing social distancing appears to be slowing the statewide spread of COVID-19. Their projections were built under a collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health.

Their findings showed a steady decrease in the rate of new infections after Northam first put in place restrictions on social gatherings on March 15. They say those are signs that social distancing is working and Virginia’s curve is flattening.

If the trend continues, Virginia’s hospitals would not be overwhelmed with new cases for at least a couple of months, the researchers said.

But scientists at the UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute emphasized that even partially lifting current restrictions would likely lead to a spike in cases over the summer.

“Lifting these social distancing restrictions too soon, or without alternative ways to address and contain the infections, may lead to a quick second wave of infections,” warned Bryan Lewis, a professor at the Institute.

Gov. Ralph Northam said it was too soon to say whether he would extend his existing stay-at-home order in light of UVA’s findings.

“I know that this is a difficult time, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Northam said, adding that the commonwealth is not yet in the clear.

“We could have a second peak, and it could be worse than what we’re having right now,” he said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a response from Secretary Carey.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
Related Stories