Just as a downturn of confirmed cases of covid-19 and related hospitalizations is being seen in New York, there are increasing signs of new outbreaks in Philadelphia, Baltimore and the District of Columbia. That’s a foreshadowing of the challenges for gaining control of the pandemic.

Americans can’t stay in lockdown indefinitely. We need a plan to reopen the country, an exit ramp from our immobility and our severely injured economy. And we can get closer to finding one, if we take advantage of already available digital data. 

Most of the plans for recovery hinge upon testing — both for the virus, to determine who has an infection, and for the antibodies to the virus, to determine who has recovered from it. But these important tests have major limitations. The test for the virus can produce false negative results. The antibody test is challenging because there is considerably cross- reactivity between covid-19 and four other coronaviruses, some of which cause common colds. Moreover, antibodies may or may not protect a person from spreading the virus or getting a second infection, and we have no idea how long they last. Finally, the logistics of getting a large proportion of 330 million Americans tested are obviously very difficult. 

Read the full op-ed on The Washington Post website.