When there is no vaccine for a disease, ‘Test, Trace, Treat/Isolate’ is the public health go-to directive. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile phone apps are designed to improve on this. But COVID-apps have not been effective as a public health tool. Countries spend millions to develop them, yet they have been shown to have terrible return on investment. This commentary explores why COVID-apps are generally championed and provides three brief case studies (Germany, Sierra Leone, Canada) of non-app public health success. In conclusion, I argue that we need to get our public health care priorities straight: Better and more testing; increased investment in manual contact tracing and treatments; hospitalization when necessary; and wrap-around care – assistance with groceries, cleaning, child- or eldercare responsibilities, telehealth doctor appointment hookups – for sick people in home isolation.
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