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Machine Learning Improves COVID-19 Tracing by Closing Language Gaps

Among the challenges posed by the pandemic were language barriers public health agencies faced as they struggled to trace infection spread among Latino communities. In California’s Santa Clara County, only 25% of the population is Latino, but it accounted for more than 56% of the state’s COVID cases. That put Spanish-speaking contact tracers – who call patients with diagnoses, identify and notify their contacts and assist with isolation and quarantine – in high demand.

These Spanish-speaking contact tracers have been key to reaching potentially infected individuals as quickly as possible, but with thousands of cases per day – and limited numbers of Spanish speakers and interpreters – it can take days to alert a patient’s contacts. An additional challenge is that Spanish-speaking residents may be reluctant to talk with government employees asking for complex, personal information – especially through someone not fluent in the language.

When we connect with people in their preferred language, it makes a huge difference in their willingness to share information about themselves, their health, and their families and friends.

– Dr. Sarah Rudman, Director of Contact tracing, County of Santa Clara Public Health Department

Recently, experts from Stanford’s RegLab — a group that designs and evaluates programs, policies, and technologies to modernise government — have come to the aid of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. In a study detailed in Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, the RegLab team describes how it applied machine learning to transform contact tracing in Santa Clara County — and narrowed the health gap between the county’s Latino and other communities.

Contact tracers usually start with only the most basic information about the people they call, such as the patient’s name, address, date of birth and test result. Researchers combined that bare-bones data with demographic information from the census and other administrative data.

A machine-learning algorithm analysed and weighed data like census block group, age and name-based race and ethnicity information from census and mortgage data and identify patterns that would predict a language preference. Contacts were scored as to which language they would likely prefer before they were assigned to a tracer.

To test the algorithm’s effectiveness, the RegLab worked with Santa Clara County to conduct a test that randomly routed half of the cases to a “language speciality team” with bilingual speakers and treated the other half with the county’s typical process. In just two months, the benefits became clear. In the test group, the time it took to complete cases dropped by nearly 14 hours over the control. Same-day completions rose by 12%, and the number of people refusing to be interviewed dipped by 4%.

Based on the results and success of this trial, Santa Clara County has expanded language matching to all of Santa Clara Public Health Department’s Case Investigation and Contact Tracing, and the state of California is contemplating adoption in the statewide system. The new approach has not only improved people’s willingness to engage in the process, but it has ensured the county’s bilingual tracers could be assigned to the contacts most likely to need them.

Before the algorithm tracers are frustrated when they would get mismatched with a contact. After the algorithm, there would be the talk of the families they had connected with, many of whom stayed on the phone only because the tracer spoke Spanish and pronounced their name correctly. When every missed contact can mean additional infections, these are significant improvements. There’s much worry in the AI community about whether machines will displace human judgment. But, this case is a model for how machines and people can integrate in complex ways that make both better.

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Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

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As a Titanium Black Partner of Dell Technologies, CTC Global Singapore boasts unparalleled access to resources.

Established in 1972, we bring 52 years of experience to the table, solidifying our position as a leading IT solutions provider in Singapore. With over 300 qualified IT professionals, we are dedicated to delivering integrated solutions that empower your organization in key areas such as Automation & AI, Cyber Security, App Modernization & Data Analytics, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.