Reopening Woes: Cities Struggle With PPE Supply Chain and Contact Tracking

Reopening Woes: Cities Struggle With PPE Supply Chain and Contact Tracing Open Graph

Cities worldwide are paving the road to economic recovery through phased reopening plans, COVID-19 testing, and the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

To facilitate knowledge sharing — specifically about COVID-19 — between city leaders, Dr. David S. Ricketts, Innovation Fellow at Harvard TECH, hosts a weekly Zoom call to discuss the challenges cities are facing and how they are being addressed.

This week, we hosted an open discussion with over 20 cities to share current plans, roadblocks, and solutions to keep citizens and city employees safe from infection. Topics discussed include testing and PPE, contact tracing, mobility, staff compensation, and phased recovery plans.

City Leaders: PPE Acquisition is the Real Test

The biggest surprise from our call was that COVID-19 testing is available to cities. Transporting tests or getting them processed at the lab in a timely manner, however, is proving to be the real challenge.

Los Angeles has rolled out testing to anyone, regardless of whether they are symptomatic. They were able to accomplish this through the head of the Port of Los Angeles, the largest port in the western hemisphere. Since 40% of all United States imports come through L.A., the city was able to refocus the port’s efforts to establish a supply chain.

Not all cities have the benefit of having such a large port, but leaders told us that testing is still available to them. PPE, however, is another story. In fact, PPE is harder to acquire in Louisville, KY than testing, we learned.

Plans for Recovery: It’s all about the Phases

Many city leaders are talking about reopening businesses and public gathering areas in phases.

Hamilton, Canada has a four-stage recovery plan:

  • Level 1 – Initial reactivation
  • Level 2 – Partial return to service
  • Level 3 – New normal
  • Level 4 – Return to lockdown and repeat as necessary

Beginning May 18, Ireland is instituting a five-phase plan to reopen society and business, beginning with limited gatherings and outdoor businesses, with mandatory social distancing and face masks required.

That being said, phased return to work means that several government employees will miss work and experience a reduction in pay. In Louisville, 380 staff members are on furlough and the city expects to see about 20% layoffs if no federal support is received. Los Angeles, meanwhile, is asking workers to take one furloughed day every two weeks, which comes out to a 10% pay cut.

Contact Tracing: Not an Exact Science

One of the most important aspects of controlling the spread of COVID-19 once social distancing rules are slacked will be contact tracing—finding out who has come in contact with an infected person and when.

At this time, we learned that there are a lot of privacy concerns with contact tracer apps and not much progress coming up with alternative solutions. Conflict of interest or liabilities can occur if a city or state recommends a particular mobile app, for example, and recruiting qualified individuals can be a challenge, as well. In fact, contact tracing initiatives are determined at the national or state level, leaving cities without much input.

Progress is hindered, but not impossible. Los Angeles is increasing its traditional contact tracer workforce and augmenting their efforts with data to improve the process. Kansas City, Missouri has a regional app as well as human contact tracers driving efforts to reopen the city.

Neighboring US states of Kentucky and Indiana, which share a number of county lines with one another, are looking at contract tracer apps together in a joint effort to find a viable solution for their citizens. 

There is also a global, open-source initiative called COVID Safe Paths that hosts weekly webinars and emphasizes privacy in its contact tracing app to prevent creating a pandemic-induced surveillance state. 

Mobility in a Pandemic World

The city of Los Angeles is trying to create testing centers in low socioeconomic neighborhoods in addition to high traffic areas to make sure everyone has access. All public transport is free to ride for the time being, as to reduce the handling of money and transference of germs. To help protect bus drivers from exposure to COVID-19, all passengers must enter and exit using the back door and wear a mask at all times.

Kansas cleans its buses and streetcars twice a day.

Civilians are turning to alternate transportation such as scooters and bikes. The UK is fast-tracking laws that would allow e-scooters passage on public roads and the city of Dublin has seen a 300% increase in their shared bike scheme.

How to Participate in the City Leader COVID-19 Discussion:

If you are a city leader, you can join the discussion by signing up for the forum here.

This will give you access to the:

    • Online Forum
    • City Leaders WhatsApp
    • Weekly Covid19 Zoom Call

Topics we’ve discussed so far include:

1.Online tools for Public Engagement

2. Homelessness / Elderly

3. Connectivity, Wifi, and Access to Computers in Community

4. International Cooperation

5. Self-reporting, Records of self-isolation and Use of Data

6. Search for Volunteers

7. Supports for Businesses

8. Tools for Signing Docs

9. Info on Ventilators and other PPE

10. How to do department by department lockdown

11.Guidelines for Protection in a Makerspace

12.Incentive-Based Pay for City Staff

13. Strategies for city recover post-pandemic

14. Contact Tracing

We hope to see you there!

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