Uber said Monday that it had established a service to give public health officials access to data within hours on riders and drivers who are presumed to have come in contact with someone infected with Covid-19, helping to fill in a gap in the coronavirus response of the U.S., which does not have a federal contact tracing program.
Using Uber’s portal, public health officials can see the data and select the action they want Uber to take, such as temporarily blocking a driver, rider or courier from using Uber.
Uber customers with a confirmed case of Covid-19 are automatically blocked from using Uber for at least 14 days.
President Trump and other White House officials have objected to creating national standards for testing and contact tracing, leaving it up to the states.
Many states nationwide have created contact tracing programs in recent weeks, yet Reuters reviewed the policies set by 32 state and local health departments and found that most do not use ride-hailing data, which health officials said is useful because it identifies a larger set of people outside of someone’s direct social circle.
Since Uber quietly started the service in January, the company says it has received roughly 560 coronavirus-related requests from public health departments in 29 countries, including 158 requests filed by U.S. public health officials.
Uber has long provided data to U.S. law enforcement officials in emergencies or criminal investigations and updated its guidelines in May to include Covid-19 as an emergency.
The most-recent coronavirus spending bill approved by Congress in April required the Health and Human Services Department to release a strategic testing plan and allocated $25 billion to increase testing. The plan the agency released in May doubled down on the administration’s view that states, not the federal government, should be responsible for testing. Uber’s chief of global law enforcement Mike Sullivan told Reuters that other countries, such as New Zealand, Australia and the U.K., have been more coordinated in their contact tracing efforts.
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The Trump administration is reportedly attempting to block billions of dollars for contact tracing, additional testing and other coronavirus mitigation efforts that could be included in Congress’ next coronavirus relief package, officials involved in the negotiations told The Washington Post Saturday. Sources said the administration is also trying to block billions of dollars that Republican senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad.
Uber isn’t the only company to launch contact testing functionality. In May, Apple and Google released contact-tracing technology that lets government health agencies build smartphone apps to track the spread of the virus. However, a Business Insider report in June found that only three states confirmed plans to use the technology from Apple and Google and that 17 states said they were against building contact-tracing apps entirely.
3,698,161. That is how many confirmed Covid-19 cases there have been in the U.S. as of Sunday, according to CDC data. CDC Director Robert Redfield has said that the number of cases could be 10 times as high based on antibody tests.