Contact Tracing Solutions
Contact tracing is a set of techniques and tools that enable people and organizations to document contact events that may result in infection and notify the affected people. As outlined by the WHO, contact tracing comprises three steps:
- Contact identification
- Contact listing
- Contact follow-up
The basic function of any contact tracing system is to identify potential exposures and notify people who need to know. A more comprehensive solution provides preventive controls and advice that guides people through the process of identifying symptoms, reporting test results, and responding appropriately.
The two contact tracing methods that have received the most attention are manual tracing and proximity tracing using mobile apps. The manual approach employs people to call the contacts of newly diagnosed patients, notify them that they are at risk, offer advice on courses of action, and follow up until they’re in the clear. The problem with the manual approach is that it’s slow, expensive, time-consuming, and certainly not applicable for every vertical and industry. Mobile proximity tracing automatically logs contacts between people who are running compatible apps on their phones. While app-based anonymous proximity tracing has great value, its potential scope is limited by the fact that people must opt into using the app and the built-in privacy features make the solution unsuitable for situations in which people’s must be known, which is often the case in scenarios like a business complex or school campus
Two other approaches to contact tracing have received less attention but have a unique value. Location-based tracing can leverage location data that an organization typically already collects, albeit for other purposes. That can include badge swipes and meeting calendars as well as passive data collection sources such as phone SIM cards, GPS signals, Wi-Fi location monitoring, and temperature readings. Area monitoring is a preventive technique that enforces area density and capacity controls to ensure physical distancing. It can include sensor data such as temperature, ventilation, and humidity readings that might indicate that too many people are gathered in one location, or to identify individuals with elevated temperatures.
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F.A.Q. about Contact Tracing Solutions
Why do I need a contact tracing solution?
Health authorities advise organizations to promptly identify and isolate potentially infectious individuals as a critical step in protecting employees, customers and visitors at a worksite. If someone was at your site and later reports that they are infected with COVID-19, you need a process to help identify the people and areas that may have been exposed to potential infection. Having a comprehensive contact tracing solution can help determine who was in contact with an infected person at your worksite, and when the interaction occurred. This can help minimize the risk of a potentially infected person spreading the virus to others, and can help mitigate the risk of multiple infected employees, which could impact your business productivity. Contact tracing puts your employees and visitors at ease knowing that they will be notified if they have been exposed to an infected person, enabling them to take appropriate steps to quarantine and/or be tested for the virus.
What technologies are available to help with contact tracing, and will they integrate with my current security system?
If you have an existing security access system, you may not realize that it can be used to supplement your contact tracing program. Access systems can track an employee or visitor and determine who else was in the same area at the same time. They provide timely information which is critical for contact protocols. You can choose the amount of time to track. If an employee or visitor displays virus symptoms, these tools can tell you who that person may have come into contact with, and provide the data to notify other individuals who may have been exposed. Ongoing reports can be generated to maintain compliance and meet ever-changing regulations. As these systems are designed for employees and visitors to provide basic contact information, they can be used to generate a prescribed report as to who was in the building, when they were there and with whom they met. Contact tracing benefits come from the basic information a user would enter when prompted, creating a contact list and a record of compliance as to who had entered, when they did and a phone number to reach them.
What important points that any returning to work plan and contact tracing policy should address?
Contact tracing solutions need to be easy to use and, as much as possible, be compatible with the tools organizations are already using. CIO’s and human resource (HR) departments are more likely to consider solutions from companies with whom they already have relationships, or with whom their employees are already familiar. That's especially true when a quick deployment time is important. That said, solutions with a unique value proposition (certainly the case with many contact tracing tools) can solve a variety of problems faster, and so also need to be considered. If your company requires a wearable solution, for example, due to higher-than-average access security concerns, then vendors that can provide all the components of such a solution (the wearables, readers, tracking software, and signal beacons) will be a more compelling requirement than compatibility with other on-site tools.
The key is determining your needs prior to purchase. That means due diligence with building and facilities staff as well as a dedicated team to manage compliance with state and municipal COVID-19 business guidelines. Once those are determined, you can match them against the needs of your particular business and make a detailed list of the contact tracing features most important to you.
No matter what your individual business needs might be, any contact tracing solution needs to make it easy to both track and collect information. Generally, this is done via some combination of apps, wearables, Wi-Fi networking, and self-reporting. However, business analytics capabilities, in particular, should allow organizations to quickly process collected data for imminent risk and then reach out to potentially impacted employees.
That means assessing the status of exposed contacts and providing easy ways to understand the risk levels for returning employees across different worksites. IT professionals should look for solutions where the contact tracing data flow is quick and efficient all the way from collection to insight translation. And you should pay special attention to final data presentation so you can make sure it's easy for managers to understand and make quick decisions.
Aggregating data from attendance logs, shift management apps, and other HR management solutions is a fairly easy part of the process. Where it gets difficult is being able to effectively time-stamp and cross-reference this data with not only your various office locations but also who was in those locations at any given time. And once that hurdle is crossed, the solution also needs to use the data to determine the risk levels now faced by other employees. Each business’ needs will vary depending on location, the nature of the workforce (meaning size, distribution, and task orientation), and the complexities of the business when it comes to compliance needs and regulation. So, again, that brings you back to the importance of a thorough due diligence process before deciding on one of these solutions.
Privacy and Security
One of the key factors for businesses when considering any contact tracing application or technology is to make sure it’s in line with data protection and privacy regulations. For buyers, that means it’s essential for any contact tracing solution to maintain the company's data privacy policies, which usually also means obtaining consent from employees.
This is even more critical when it involves employees’ personal health information. Employees need to know that their personal information is only being collected for health purposes and that it will never be shared with any outside agencies, like law enforcement or immigration.
An effective, though a usually pricier option, is to select a system that's token-based. Such solutions ensure that only key data points are collected, and they generally go a long way in convincing employees to participate in the necessary data collection while still feeling comfortable from a privacy perspective.
Breaking the Participation Barrier
Successful contact tracing requires both participation and privacy. Clearly articulating the benefits and being transparent about how an individual’s data is used is critical to successful implementation.
So when making a buying decision, you need to put focus on not just data collection but the features you'll need to ensure buy-in from employees. To help, some contact tracing tools provide features akin to an email marketing app that give managers the ability to send out health-oriented email newsletters to employees. Others offer tight integration with team messaging and online survey apps, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.
You should use evaluation versions and detailed conversations with sales staff to determine which ones best suit your organization. But do it soon as none of these solutions can be put in place without some significant lead times, since you'll need to handle not only customization and data integration, but also employee training and buy-in challenges.