New Orleans business owners will be required to maintain records of their customers as the city eases lockdown restrictions, according to Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Tuesday. The city’s goal is to track down residents who may have come into contact with people found to be infected with COVID-19. City officials instructed businesses to create their own method of tracking employees with further details forthcoming.
The policy is part of a program of contact tracing, in which the people are tracked. Public health officials believe people need to be tracked so we know who has come into contract with infected residents.
“Contact tracing just doesn’t involve government alone,” Cantrell said. Businesses will surveil their customers “as part of the new normal.”
Michael Hecht, of the economic development agency GNO Inc., says surveillance is necessity to restart the economy. “Businesses are willing to go to great lengths to protect their employees and customers, and will assist with contact tracing as needed,” he said.
Governor John Bel Edwards’ stay-home order in mid-May, and his team claims 700 contact tracers are needed to do that work. The process entails manually recording those who have tested positive and who they have been in contact with in preceding weeks, and requiring those in contact with people who had fallen ill with COVID-19 to quarantine. In late April, the state had around 70 tracers.
Though federal guidelines urges the use of contact tracing in workplaces after an employee tests positive, extending that tracking to customers, as Cantrell has suggested, is not explicitly mentioned.
It’s unclear how many other cities and states are embracing the requirement, though other jurisdictions have started to develop similar plans. North Dakota, for instance, has partnered with software developers who have created apps that track individuals’ locations. People need to opt in to use the service.
New Orleans will get some help from Big Tech, as Apple and Google develop technology using bluetooth and smartphones to alert users who may have come into contact with an infected person.
“The virus has had us boxed in for so long,” Cantrell said. “But as we pivot to reopening, that contact tracing really allows us to box in the virus. And that’s what our focus will have to be moving forward.”
While hair salons, repair shops, and other businesses see customers by appointment may already have a log of who goes in and out of their buildings, grocers and restaurants might not, and therefore will need to change policies to adhere to the new normal.