- October 22, 2020
- Posted by: NLombardi
- Category: Blog
COVID-19 Contact Tracing: Why? Who? Where?
It is critical that employers who are having their employees return to the workplace understand the importance of contact tracing in case of any potential COVID exposures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contact tracing is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protects others through three different ways:
- Notify individuals that if they have been exposed to COVID-19 they need to monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
- Helps individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 get tested
- Requests people to self-isolate if they have COVID-19 or self-quarantine if they are in close contact.
While many employers utilize temperature and symptom checks, contact tracing is now being deployed along with appropriate COVID testing. Ensuring that personal information will not be breached is a critical issue and a large segment of Americans are concerned about privacy. According to a recent national poll by The Washington Post-University of Maryland “Among the 82 percent of Americans who do have smartphones, willingness to use an infection-tracing app is split evenly, with 50 percent saying they definitely or probably would use such an app and an equal percentage saying they probably or definitely would not” (Washington Post).
There are three types of contact tracing solutions: 1) Web-based software platforms, 2) Through an app on your phone, or 3) Wearable device. All of these applications are dependent on accurate testing results being reported to the organization along with an interview process after positive testing occurs.
Apple and Google have collaborated to create a secure and private coronavirus contact tracing implementation on iOS and Android. On September 1st, 2020 they came out with “Exposure Notifications Express” The benefit of this cell phone feature to users is that they do not have to download a local health department app for contact tracing, but local health department support is still required for users. “A key aspect of Exposure Notifications Express is that it can help alert someone if they may have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, whether you knew that person or not. This is very important because without being notified of a potential exposure to COVID-19 one may not be aware of potentially having the virus and could spread it to others without even knowing. This approach can benefit employers who allow employees to access smart phones during work hours and can assure their employees of any potential privacy breaches. The downfall to this technology is that employees have to own a smart phone and need to carry their smartphone on them at all times while at work to help aid in the support of contact tracing.
There are apps available including “COVID Green” which has been deployed by State Employee groups including Pennsylvania. The COVID Green app was originally created to help aid contact tracing in Ireland but now is available in the United States to download on GitHub, a development platform, as part of Linux Foundation Public Health (NearForm).
It is not only used to help aid in contact tracing but also provide real-time statistics and reporting on COVID-19 along with an optional symptom check. The reporting features include:
- Daily number of confirmed cases (both national and local)
- Hospital admissions
- Intensive care admissions and more
The COVID Green app states that its user’s privacy is protected. The experts who built COVID Green claim the tenets of privacy and security are followed in all downstream versions.
Companies are also offering their employees wearable devices and implementing sensors in their buildings that monitor the environment. One of the leading companies that is implementing onsite contact tracing technology and wearable devices is Microshare. Microshare is known for their expertise in building environmental monitoring and surveillance. They have developed wearable devices which help to support contact tracing including badges, wristbands, and keyrings that can notify those who may have been in contact with someone with COVID-19. The major advantages of wearables are that it avoids the vulnerability of smartphones where data can be disabled, batteries go dead or people simply do not own them. These devices run bluetooth beacons which allows for a multi-year battery life. In addition, wearable devices run on “LoRaWAN” gateways separate from proprietary networks, avoiding potential security breaches associated with WiFi and other cellphone data technologies.
Another Canadian company Proxxi established a contact tracing device called “Contact.” “Contact” is a wrist-worn band similar to a fit bit that briefly vibrates to notify wearers that another band is within 6 feet (2 meters). It’s deployed to all personnel at a job site or workplace to help ensure safe physical distances are maintained. The bands keep records of interactions with other bands to provide safe-distance monitoring without needing a smartphone battery in the case of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, this data can be used internally to trace which specific workers might require testing and quarantine. No location tracking occurs, and worker privacy is maintained with no personally identifiable information shared with Proxxi or between each employee. Reporting with detailed proximity logs allow organizations to download interaction data from a band and internally produce contact tracing reports.”
CONTACT TRACING & THE WORKPLACE
Contact Tracing Via Technology Solutions:
Contact tracing is more effective and reliable when it is done through technology rather than through just interviews. Small interactions amongst employees in a 24-hour period should be tracked via technology since it is the most accurate. On October 23rd the CDC updated the definition of “Close Contact” to include anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset. The new definition makes contact tracing that solely relies on an interview process more challenging and potentially less accurate. Employees should not be expected to log and add up every single interaction they have in a day.
Person to Person Contact Tracing Interviews:
An important part of the process of contact tracing is the interview process that transpires after a positive test occurs. This information helps notify others who may have been exposed and provides a data feed to software, apps and wearable devices. Public entities are active in recruiting staff to follow up with those who have tested positive via telephone and asking to list the names and identification of those who they have been in contact with and may have subsequently been infected. “The Contact Tracer will use a web-based client resource management (CRM) platform to call all contacts of anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 to document a symptom check, refer them for testing according to established protocols, and provide them with instructions for quarantine. Contact Tracers will be required to follow all scripts, policies and procedures provided by the hiring organization, and comply with Department of Public Health training regarding confidential information related to personal information” (Contrace). “CONTRACE Public Health Corps operates a national program to identify & pre-screen individuals interested in working or volunteering as contact tracers. They accept applications for those who have backgrounds in public health, nursing, clinical or social work and those who are US residents. For more information on who they are interested in hiring and to apply please refer to their application: https://www.contrace.org/individuals-application (Contrace).
Software That Supports Contact Tracing:
There are software solutions and other COVID resources in the market that are essential to support contract tracing apps and devices in the market. As an example, HealthWell Solutions has developed “Employer COVID Check” www.employercovidcheck.com This platform h keeps employees safe before entering the workplace and provides real-time reporting of employee health . The platform is HIPPA compliant and follows the CDC guidelines which are updated frequently. The software tracks temperature through self-reported, digital thermometers and infrared temperature Kiosks including 8-inch and 19-inch units which integrate with the software through facial recognition, mask detection, access control, printer, timekeeping, and contactless workflows.
The software supports contact tracing for employees and visitors. Chris Leonard, Director of Microshare, stated that “HealthWell Solutions, along with Microshare’s contact tracing, are very well placed to meet the needs of employers who are looking for a complete coronavirus solution. The reason why is because the solution is complete. It offers the ability for an employee to get permission to go to the office on any given day to feel a sense of safety. To give their employees the ability to take a survey and get permission to come to work every single day. Through the contact tracing component, it allows the employee to know that they have in some sense, higher level of safety, because if somebody is diagnosed with coronavirus, they can hear from the employer on who it was and whether or not they had contact with them” (Chris Leonard, Director of Microshare).
For employers there is an administrative platform called “Workspace” which enables HR Managers to keep track of the location and names of employees and who they come in contact with at work each day. This allows HR/Admins/Supervisors to know which employees come in contact with one another each day so that if an exposure event occurs, they can appropriately notify who is in their workspace (who they come in contact with at work each day).
Data can be exported to identify the exposure location in a building reported from meetings with employees and guests, and support integration with devices and apps. There is also a unique visitor QR code for visitors to take the symptom checker whenever entering an office. It is easily scanned and completed to support visitor safety and exposure monitoring. 48 hours after the visit, the visitor will receive an automated follow-up message from the platform Exposed employees can l then be notified to begin self-quarantine 48 hours after exposure.
Numerous employers that have already deployed Employer COVID Check software platform including school systems, non-profits, insurance companies, and healthcare systems. To learn more information about Employer COVID Check visit www.employercovidcheck.com or call 833-223-1700.