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Illustration by Security Management

South Koreans Test Positive for COVID-19, Again

Ninety-one patients who previously recovered from COVID-19 have tested positive for the disease again, South Korean officials confirmed on Friday.

Epidemiologists are still studying what this means—if the patients were re-infected or if the disease was reactivated—but it poses concerns about if “infected populations will develop sufficient immunity to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic,” according to Reuters.

“False test results could also be at fault, other experts said, or remnants of the virus could still be in patients’ systems but not be infectious or of danger to the host or others,” Reuters added.

The findings were revealed as health experts and world leaders are examining ways to keep essential businesses open and stop the spread of the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization (WHO) said had—as of 10 April—more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and 92,798 deaths.

This comes with risks, however, such as in the United States where a poultry plant worker in Georgia died after contracting the virus. Annie Grant, 55, was asked to continue to report to work at the Tysons Food plant in Camilla, Georgia, despite developing symptoms of the coronavirus. She later died in a hospital from the disease.

The New York Times reports that in the United States, meat processing plants in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all confirmed that workers have tested positive for COVID-19—causing the plants to shut down for weeks at a time. While this might not disrupt the supply chain in the short term, if plants remain closed for an extended period it could have a different effect.

“If workers don’t feel safe, they may not come back, and we don’t have a large pool of people that are lining up to work in these plants,” said Christine McCracken, a meat industry analyst at Rabobank, in an interview with the Times.

To attempt to curb outbreaks and keep businesses and essential services open, officials are taking a range of actions.

Japan, for instance, announced a state of emergency for Tokyo and six prefectures to let governors call for people to stay home and close nonessential businesses.

“Our government cannot force people to stay home,” said Seiji Uehara, fire safety coordinator at an international financial company in Japan, in an interview with Security Management. “The only thing they could do is apply some political pressure to organizations. Then organizations, like corporations, can regulate employees.”

New Zealand, on the other hand, has taken one of the most aggressive stances to curb the spread of coronavirus within its borders. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a four-week lockdown, excepting essential workers and trips to the grocery store, and that the country was closing its borders to foreigners on 19 March.

“After peaking at 89 on April 2, the daily number of new cases ticked down to 67 on Monday and 54 on Tuesday,” according to a Washington Post reporter based in New Zealand. “The vast majority of cases can be linked to international travel, making contact tracing relatively easy, and many are consolidated into identifiable clusters.”

For instance, a recent case study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed how an individual at a family funeral with mild symptoms of COVID-19 infected 16 others—three of whom died.

“These data illustrate the importance of social distancing for preventing [COVID-19] transmission, even within families,” the CDC said. “In this cluster, extended family gatherings (a birthday party, funeral, and church attendance), all of which occurred before major social distancing policies were implemented, might have facilitated transmission of [COVID-19] beyond household contacts into the broader community.”

Enhancing contact tracing is an essential component of mitigating the current outbreaks and preventing future spread. “Effective contact tracing will need to be in place before widely lifting stay-at-home orders that have crippled the global economy, health experts have said,” Reuters reports.

This has led some governments to partner with technology providers to enhance contact tracing, which is sometimes a labor-intensive process. Asian and European countries are using the Pan-European Privacy Preserving Proximity Tracing initiative to do this work.

And in the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) confirmed that three local U.S. governments intend to sign deals to use Private Kit. The application logs users’ movements using Bluetooth signals that communicate between users’ smartphones.

“Healthcare officials would ask users who test positive for the coronavirus to anonymously publicize their phones’ recent chirps. Any Private Kit user whose phone was close enough to infected users to register their phones’ chirps would be alerted about their potential coronavirus exposure,” Reuters reports.

Applications like these may become the new normal, according to plans from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Center for American Progress (CAP), and Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics that examined what life will look like after this initial period of social distancing ends.

The plans all call for periods of a national lockdown to “flatten the curve” followed by a second phase where social distancing is relaxed while testing and surveillance measures are increased.

“The CAP and Harvard plans both foresee a digital pandemic surveillance state in which virtually every American downloads an app to their phone that geotracks their movements, so if they come into contact with anyone who later is found to have COVID-19, they can be alerted, and a period of social quarantine can begin,” wrote Ezra Klein in his analysis for Vox. “Similarly, people would scan QR codes when boarding mass transit, or entering other high-risk public areas. And GPS tracking could be used to enforce quarantine on those who test positive with the disease, as is being done in Taiwan.”

For more pandemic response articles and resources, visit the ASIS Disease Outbreak: Security Resources page.

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