TRACE is in the House

The House of Representatives has a bill called TRACE which will begin the efforts of monitoring people with or those who came in contact with people with COVID-19.

May 11, 2020

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

contact trace If I were to look at the response to COVID-19 so far, here’s what I’ve observed:

People became fearful and panicked.

Politicians in turn became opportunistic. First came the bribes… or “stimulus”. Second, comes the surveillance … or “tracing”. I imagine a third installment which leads to highly regulated movements such as where you can or can’t go under certain conditions.

The Stimulus

This bill was supposed to be for “The People”. To help them out during a time when economic activity was halted.

Of the $2 trillion package, 30% went to individuals, 25% went to large corporations, 19% went to small businesses, 17% went to state and local governments, and 9% went to public works like hospitals.

The majority of the funds for small businesses was in the form or loans that could be eligible for forgiveness. One particular piece was called PPP (Payroll Protection Program). The name basically captures what it was meant for: making payroll.

Spend this money on the right things — like keeping your employees on the payroll — and keep your books in order, and any loans you receive under the program would be forgiven.

On April 30th, the IRS released guidance: “expenses related to forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) won’t be tax-deductible.”

They cited Section 256 of the tax code, “which states that deductions can’t be taken if they are tied to a certain class of tax-exempt income.”

The one-time disbursement of $1,200 is hardly enough to hold over any family. The hike in unemployment made it so people chose that over working.

Now, as people become frustrated with lock-downs, and eager to get back to their lives, state and local governments are rolling out their assorted phases to “reopen” their respective jurisdictions.

Some states didn’t take any major measures, such as Wyoming and South Dakota. Others like California and Illinois have created for themselves a longer road to haul by stipulating various conditions for rolling out a reopening plan.


One of those stipulations is “contact tracing“. This is a method by which last known contacts of confirmed cases are tracked down and isolated to prevent further spread of the diseases.

It sounds good until it’s not.  It sounded good to have a security checkpoint at airports to look for dangerous items.  What it actually became was an expensive and useless government agency that has committed more crimes than the what they were trying to prevent.

Some state and local municipalities are already testing this out. Ventura County in California made an announcement for their pilot program. No matter how gentle he tried to be about it, there was no sugar coating that part where households with more than one person and less than two bathrooms would be subject to having infected parties removed from the home.

For example, if there was a couple living in a home with one bathroom, and one tested positive for COVID-19, they would have to be removed from the home and placed in another facility since they could not share a bathroom.

As New Orleans, Louisiana is preparing to reopen, they are looking at contact tracing as a means to better control future outbreaks. The city has ordered:

… business owners will be required to keep logs of the names and contact information of patrons who enter their establishments once the Big Easy reopens to help with contact tracing…

Appointment based businesses would already have that in place, but other businesses would need to find a way to collect the names and contact information of all their patrons.  That is steep for a place like Walmart.  Perhaps membership based places and shops with “rewards” would have an easier time since they sign up and scan their number in for the discounts.  But the alternative would be to have some sort of tracking on card transactions which doesn’t sound appealing.

Tech giants even came up with a cooperative method of tracing… and surprisingly, health officials aren’t biting.

So far at least, the pandemic response has become a bitter lesson in everything technology can’t do and an example of Silicon Valley’s legendary myopia. States like New York, California, and Massachusetts, and cities like Baltimore and San Francisco, have looked carefully at cutting-edge contact-tracing solutions and largely said, “No thanks,” or “Not now.”

There’s some hope here. Not a whole lot because “not now” could very well mean a slow introduction of technological tracing. But for now, your devices aren’t going to narc you out to the state.

Here’s the not-so-great news. Rather than the digital way, officials are still opting for the analogue way:

Instead, public health officials in hard-hit states are moving ahead to deploy armies of people, with limited assistance from technology. Massachusetts has budgeted $44 million to hire 1,000 contact tracers. New York State, with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, said last week it plans to hire as many as 17,000. California is soon expected to announce plans to hire as many as 20,000 contact tracers.

Thousands will be needed to be successful with this approach. With so many people displaced and out of work from the shutdowns, it’s no wonder that I’m starting to see articles like this one from CBS: Lost Your Job, Consider Becoming a Contact Tracer.

Despite the localized efforts, no crisis would be complete without federal funding!

It’s H.R. 6666, called the TRACE Act: Testing, Reaching and Contacting Everyone Act.

To authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to eligible entities to conduct diagnostic testing for COVID–19, and related activities such as contact tracing, through mobile health units and, as necessary, at individuals’ residences, and for other purposes.

That last part is a bit unnerving, but here comes $100 BILLION in allocations toward this effort from the feds.

It’s uncharacteristically short as congressional bills go, and relatively precise in its language with the exception of a few spots. Under the section that says “permissible use of funds”, there’s this:

“to purchase personal protective equipment and other supplies

To any sensible person, that would mean supplies pertaining to tracing. But who knows? The US found out that “shall not be infringed” was not as clear as they originally thought in the second amendment to the constitution. So we’ll see what this means.

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