No time to waste: practical statistical contact tracing with few low-bit messages
Proceedings of The 26th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics, PMLR 206:7943-7960, 2023.
Pandemics have a major impact on society and the economy. In the case of a new virus, such as COVID-19, high-grade tests and vaccines might be slow to develop and scarce in the crucial initial phase. With no time to waste and lock-downs being expensive, contact tracing is thus an essential tool for policymakers. In theory, statistical inference on a virus transmission model can provide an effective method for tracing infections. However, in practice, such algorithms need to run decentralized, rendering existing methods – that require hundreds or even thousands of daily messages per person – infeasible. In this paper, we develop an algorithm that (i) requires only a few (2-5) daily messages, (ii) works with extremely low bandwidths (3-5 bits) and (iii) enables quarantining and targeted testing that drastically reduces the peak and length of the pandemic. We compare the effectiveness of our algorithm using two agent-based simulators of realistic contact patterns and pandemic parameters and show that it performs well even with low bandwidth, imprecise tests, and incomplete population coverage.