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Zwicker & Sumter on Joint Committee Hearing Concerning COVID-19 Contact Tracing

The Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and Assembly Community Development and Affairs committees joined together on Tuesday to hear testimony on the importance of contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19 and gain more insight into what is needed to safeguard the privacy of data collected.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset), chair of the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology committee released the following statement:

“Contact tracing has long been one of our most reliable and effective tools to combat the spread of communicable disease. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it serves as a core component of our public health response.

“Providing health officials information about the networks of people who have come into contact with a positive individual who can then be alerted of their risk for infection, it serves a critical function in breaking chains of transmission, curbing resurgence and saving lives.

“The challenge in front us in New Jersey is building on public trust so that more people are willing to stay on the phone when a contact tracer calls them and share information.

“As heard today, to build this trust we must address the divergent needs of our communities and clearly communicate around what contact tracing is, how New Jersey is approaching it and what exactly is being done to protect the data collected.

“The implication of contact tracing for our privacy is a critical piece. Without the assurance that data is being collected, used and stored solely for the purpose of contact tracing and only for the length of time it’s needed, we limit the ability of our contact tracing program to work.”

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic), chair of the Assembly Community Development and Affairs, issued the following statement:

“Abundant in information, this was a conversation that needed to take place as we enter and encourage contact tracing throughout the state.

“Community and data privacy concerns can be obstacles to using this effective tool in flattening the curve of Covid-19. The benefits of contract tracers working in partnership with us to limit the exposure is critical during this season of the pandemic. 

“We know today that communities of color and our senior population has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. In order to protect public health going forward in these communities and throughout the state, we must all be activated to engage in reporting cases, answering calls from contact tracers and, subsequently, accessing the care we need in a timely manner.

Hopefully, this will be the first of many dialogues on contact tracing as we begin to reopen New Jersey.”