During an outbreak, contact tracing is the first line of defense. It's among the first and most essential methods available for use in containment. Since large quantities of tests and vaccines are unlikely to be available for immediate use when outbreaks happen, contact tracing is an effective tool in helping societies reopen from lockdown mandates until tests and vaccines are ready. Digital contact tracing replaces and accelerates the process of manual interview-based contact tracing. It can help contain the outbreak faster and with greater efficiency.


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Contact tracing is a highly-effective strategy for minimizing the impact of infections like COVID-19. It gives communities a fighting chance in containing such an outbreak. The infected are identified as having been been in contact with the infected. Those individuals then have an opportunity to quarantine themselves voluntarily to help prevent further spread.

The entire process takes a lot of time and effort with the risk of human error. There are also privacy concerns to consider. Since in most cases resources are limited, the automation of contact tracing is crucial in efforts to halt the spread of disease.

Most people today carry mobile devices that are traceable using GPS in conjunction with proper infrastructure. Most also have Bluetooth capability. Both make it possible to trace where an individual has been through their device and detect other devices of those who have been within close proximity. But are mobile-based contact tracing solutions the best way to go?

Digital contact tracing strategies available today

Two of the major technologies used for digital contact tracing in the United States are Bluetooth and GPS. These tools can be used to improve the medical monitoring of high-risk parties. They can be used to self-report a user's daily temperature as well as any symptoms of infection that they've noticed. Some management systems using either technology allow for push notifications to send reminders to users for check-in during voluntary isolation or quarantine. These methods have several advantages.
1. They put user trust first.
2. The automation of the process reduces the time and man-power needed to identify contacts, facilitate communication between contacts, and assist in ensuring potentially infected individuals know to quarantine quickly to help break the chain of transmission.
3. Assists in locating potentially unknown contacts.
4. Offers a detailed mobility account of a given individual that lets the subject more accurately track their movements. It also provides public health officials with highly accurate data.
5. Allows for the categorization of different exposure risk groups that health officials can match to varying levels of monitoring, notification, and tracing.

GPS

The concepts of location and proximity are also embodied in GPS solutions. Location data from GPS solutions allows you to map and analyze the movements of individuals or big groups of people. But GPS solutions use more energy as they have to maintain a constant connection where BLE beacons send out packets when another device is detected. GPS solutions aren't as precise as Bluetooth technology either. They can't detect where two or more people have been within six feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes when the infection risk is at its highest. GPS location data isn't available in all locations.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

Bluetooth Low Energy, also called BLE, has many advantages over GPS. BLE is widely used in wearables, beacons, smart homes, and much more. BLE beacons are an Internet of Things (IoT) solution that constantly transmit radio signals that identify themselves. BLE beacons are well-suited for digital contact tracing because of their low energy consumption. They can handle proximity tracing with a minimal amount of data necessary for exchange. Their signal power can be utilized to determine the distance between two contacts which is immensely helpful when dealing with a public health crisis.

Contact tracing in the world of mobile devices

BLE solutions are more precise, secure, and use less energy. Let’s focus on their uses in contact tracing, where there are two common ways BLE can be used.

The first method uses a smartphone to directly receive the broadcast packets from another smartphone. They don't, however, establish a connection. In this scenario, each smartphone acts as a BLE beacon or a one-way transmitter that continually broadcasts identifiers to other BLE-enabled devices in close proximity.

The second method in achieving contact tracing is through badge-based solutions. When BLE beacons are used, like those from Kontakt.io, you can trace employees who have let you know they've tested positive for COVID-19. The app-based applications use low energy Bluetooth radio signals to provide real-time notifications when someone comes in contact with a known infected person. You can then immediately send people home and cut off the chain of transmission within your work environment.

It's also possible to figure out where infected individuals and those who came in contact with them have been in the building so the area can be thoroughly sanitized. This helps to block the spread of the virus to the rest of your employee population. Using a continually updated algorithm, individual exposure risk can be calculated so better decisions can be made. You can enforce social distancing, reduce lines and gatherings, track sanitation, and more.

Using BLE beacons and tags, you can promote the safety of both employees and visitors to your business. You're not only preventing the spread of the infection, you're providing peace of mind.

Worker privacy and information security considerations

In recent years, there's been a keen interest in data privacy and the protection of personal information among businesses, individuals, lawmakers, and regulatory bodies. With the broad rollout of contact-tracing applications and technology to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, some fear years of progress in privacy laws are in jeopardy. But new laws just might raise the overall awareness of data privacy.

With BLE beacons, very specific information is provided about person-to-person interactions without dependence on GPS or other mobile devices. They don't require personal details that are in compliance with data privacy laws. The small amount of information from contact tracing is stored securely to protect the privacy of all involved contacts while providing them with immediate attention if there's a chance they've been exposed to a current virus.

Common misconceptions and risks to avoid

The popularity of BLE beacons is growing despite privacy concerns. Data breaches have been growing in frequency and severity around credit cards and businesses for the last several years. It's important to understand that when it comes to BLE beacons from reputable and reliable sources like Kontakt.io, they are completely secure. 

However, they also require a security mechanism to match the asset in question.

With an increasing interest in data privacy laws, it's also important to know that beacons don't harvest consumer data without their express consent. Implementing beacons into your workplace allows you and your employees to control your individual privacy by granting or revoking app permission. The system is fully compliant with all applicable privacy laws.

Worker safety in a post-pandemic reality

In a post-pandemic world, vigilance will be key. Once everything has fully reopened, many sectors will wisely continue to practice contact tracing and even social distancing. While BLE beacons are ideal during pandemic conditions, they can also keep you and your workers safe in other ways.

The safety of your workers is important. That's why BLE beacons are a great way to protect them moving forward. Regardless of your industry, beacons give you the ability to determine each employee's exact location in real time, even where GPS data might not be available. The location data is highly accurate. The system can even send notifications to meet a variety of needs and conditions. Help will always be available using BLE beacons.

Without a vaccine ready and a second wave of COVID-19 looming, American businesses need a practical, affordable enterprise solution to keep their staff safe and to do their part in preventing further spread of the virus. Secure BLE beacons provided by reputable providers like Kontakt.io, offer real-time location solutions that can help you reopen your business safely and fit into your budget as well. 

Would you like to learn more about how Kontakt.io's location-based services can help your business navigate the challenges presented by the current pandemic? We can help you keep your workforce safe while offering many other benefits to your business as well. Join our webinar or contact us today.

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By late June or early July, everyone was hoping that the pandemic would be over. The idea was that warmer weather would, if not cast it out, at least decrease the amount of transmission.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

People had high hopes that, perhaps by September, there would be a vaccine that would help make workplaces and public gatherings safer. 

That vaccine also has not yet emerged. 

COVID-19 continues to pose challenges for businesses and private individuals alike. It has changed the world as we know it: the way people do business, interact with the brands they care about, and even come to work each day. People are spending more time online and less time in actual contact with people. They do more online shopping. Many workplaces have turned to remote opportunities rather than asking their employees to come into a physical office environment.

Others, however, cannot allow their employees to work remotely. Some may need to bring their employees in to work occasionally, whether to pick up supplies or to deal with tasks that can only be completed in the office. Some may need their employees to work in a physical building to fill orders, interact with customers, or take care of production tasks. 

As the coronavirus crisis continues to impact the world and the workplace, your business needs contact tracing solutions to help it move through these uncertain times. 


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Why Do You Need Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing solutions can benefit your business, not just in the midst of the crisis, but as we move into a post-coronavirus world. Consider these critical reasons why contact tracing is, and will remain, incredibly important for your business and your employees. 

1. Help your employees and visitors feel more confident. 

The COVID-19 health crisis has created an unprecedented amount of insecurity and fear among many individuals. People are more aware than ever of the potential to spread germs and get sick when they come into contact with others. High-risk individuals, including both the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, have been forced to increase the measures they take to protect themselves.

Contact tracing, including badges and lanyards that can help prevent employees and visitors to your site from accessing potential high-risk areas, can help increase confidence and make people feel better about visiting your location. For your employees, that means decreased stress in the workplace, which can improve productivity as well as creating a better overall workplace environment. For visitors to your workplace, adequate contact tracing could be the difference between choosing to visit your site and choosing to stay away.

This need for confidence in sanitation and safety will likely remain in a post-COVID world. The coronavirus has permanently changed the way many people view health and wellness. Even with vaccines and treatments for the illness, many people will still worry about the potential to get sick and the lack of productivity it may cause in their lives--not to mention the associated risks. Contact tracing can help address that challenge and make people feel more comfortable in your business. 

2. Track the potential spread of illness (and not just COVID-19) through your workplace.

Imagine a typical flu season. An average 90% of Americans report at least "sometimes" coming to work while sick. When they have early symptoms of the flu, for example, they may come to work in spite of it. Some brush it off as allergies. Others say that they "don't feel that bad" or "can continue to work anyway." Many Americans have too few sick hours or feel that they need to save their time off as much as possible. 

As a result, the flu could spread through your workplace like wildfire. It might start in one department, with a single employee noting symptoms and then sharing it with coworkers. Contact by contact, it spreads throughout the building, decreasing productivity and leading to increased sick time. 

Contact tracing can help reduce the likelihood of that spread just as it can decrease the spread of coronavirus.

Many businesses have, as a result of COVID-19, learned just how many of their processes and procedures can be handled remotely. While being in a physical work environment can offer several advantages, including reduced distractions and better connections between employees, your business has likely implemented several workaround strategies that will allow your employees to work from anywhere.

You can continue to use many of those vital processes long after the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end. Like the flu, COVID-19 may become a seasonal malady in the United States, cropping up more often in the late fall and winter. The flu continues to present a significant hazard, not only to the health of the elderly or medically-compromised individuals in your workplace, but to overall workplace productivity. 

Contact tracing can help change that. When you identify an ill employee and trace their connections through the workplace, you can warn and isolate individuals they came into contact with. That may mean moving employees to remote work for a few days or weeks while they deal with symptoms of illness. By isolating those employees, you can prevent the spread of that illness throughout the workplace, keeping all your employees healthier. Not only is this a vitally important process when decreasing the spread of COVID-19 through workplace environments, contact tracing can help you keep your workplace healthier even after the immediate health crisis ends. 

3. Reduce the cost of unnecessary testing and isolation.

If you cannot track and trace the spread of COVID-19 through your workplace, you may have employees going through unnecessary testing. Those employees may have to quarantine until they get results in or until they can confirm for certain that they did not contract the virus. 

This can lead to a great deal of lost productivity and increased costs for your workplace, especially if you work in an environment where your employees need to be sure of their health before coming to work each day. 

Without contact tracing, you may have trouble identifying which employees have been exposed to someone who has tested positive. As a result, you may have employees unnecessarily missing work or going through expensive testing. With contact tracing, on the other hand, you can reduce the cost of expensive external tests and keep employees working when they have not actually been exposed to COVID-19. 

4. Keep business operations flowing more smoothly. 

COVID-19 has caused extreme disruption across many business environments. Businesses have faced shutdowns, employee inability to work, and employees who have needed new modifications. As a result, many businesses have struggled to remain afloat in the midst of the crisis. 

With contact tracing, you can keep your business operations flowing more smoothly. You won't have to disrupt areas of your business where employees have not faced potential exposure, nor will you have to question whether specific employees or areas were impacted by a worker who tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, you can keep your company operating more smoothly. 

How Does Contact Tracing Work?

Contact tracing is not disruptive for your employees or your business as a whole. With our contact tracing solutions, you do not have to rely on employee memory of what they did or where they went, nor do you have to question who may have been exposed or who may have been in a specific area. 

1. Employees are issued tags that track their movements. 

These tags, which are worn by employees every day, send messages to a gateway that tracks movement throughout your facility and the presence of various employees in specific areas. As a result, you can easily see what areas employees moved through and who may have faced exposure to COVID-19 if someone falls ill. 

2. Employees notify you if they have a positive test.

An employee who tests positive for COVID-19 needs to notify their workplace as soon as possible. Your organization needs to take fast steps to notify people who may have been exposed and prevent future exposure in the workplace. 

3. You can assess risk levels for other employees. 

With Kontact.io's COVID-19 contact tracing solution, you can access a display that will easily track potential exposure for other employees, including factors like:

The program allows you to collect data about who came into contact with the affected individual and respond accordingly, notifying those who may have come into contact with the affected individual without disclosing any of that person’s private health information. 

4. Take action accordingly.

By now, your business likely has a plan in place for how to respond to potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. You likely have a policy that will notify employees who may have been exposed by an infected coworker. Once notified, you may want to:

Isolate affected employees.

In some cases, you may be able to isolate a small department, keeping them out of contact with the rest of the workplace until they have had negative tests or are at least two weeks past exposure. Your business, on the other hand, may prefer to have those employees work remotely or to have them stay home until they have a negative test. 

Clean the impacted areas.

In order to decrease the potential spread of COVID-19 through your workplace, you may want to deep clean the affected areas. Our contact tracing solution will allow you to easily assess what areas of your workplace the affected individual spent the most time in and clean them accordingly. 

COVID-19 isn't going away any time soon, nor is the need for contact tracing. By installing an effective contact tracing solution in your workplace, you can increase your ability to protect your workers and keep them safe. Schedule a demo today to learn more about how our solutions can improve safety in your workplace.

Contact-Tracing-Solutions-and-safe-reopenings-webinar

As we start to move into the next phase of mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, factories are going to open up again. However, hesitation is likely, especially given the number of outbreaks that have happened in meatpacking plants. The factory floor is not an easy place to practice social distancing and most factories are not designed to be operated remotely. Let’s look at how real-time contact tracing can help. 


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OSHA has released a number of guidelines to help factories navigate the emergency. They include flexible work hours, barriers between workstations, and wearing masks. But the fact remains that outbreaks in factories are going to be likely for a while, and these outbreaks have led to plants being shut down for days while they are deep cleaned and sanitized, which is a considerable cost. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day to shut down and sanitize the building.
The best solution to this, in addition to promoting personal hygiene and following guidelines, is to track potential outbreaks early and isolate affected workers. "Contact tracing" has become a buzzword, but it is key to ensuring that a plant does not experience a major outbreak.

What is Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing is a process that activates when you have a confirmed case of COVID (ideally lab-confirmed, but presumed cases should be considered as testing is not always available). The process involves tracking down everyone who has had close contact (within six feet for more than a couple of minutes) with the patient over the two weeks before the confirmation of the case. Those people can then be tested and/or isolated. This allows you to catch and isolate potential carriers even if they are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. With a disease that produces a high percentage of asymptomatic carriers, contact tracing is essentially the only way to avoid further extended shutdowns and balance the economy and public health.
Contact tracing slows an outbreak by removing potential sources of infection (or establishing that they are not infected through a negative lab test). Additionally, it can improve worker confidence by assuring them that infections will be tracked and that they will not be sent home without cause. This can help make employees more willing to come back to work, although it should be combined with transparency about procedures and good hygiene. It can also make visitors more comfortable about entering the building and interacting with employees, although social distancing should be maintained where possible.
Without contact tracing, it is not possible to keep a fast-moving, highly infectious virus under control, and it is simply not possible to safely and efficiently reopen plants. Nobody wants their factory to be on the news as the center of another outbreak.

How Can Businesses conduct Contact Tracing?

Traditionally, contact tracing is done by interviewing the patient and then calling all of their contacts. This, of course, relies on human memory, which is often fallible. It is also a highly labor-intensive process. Human resources have to track down every employee who worked with the patient, and obviously you can't count on people being where they are supposed to be at all times. Did they use the break room near their work station or did they trek somewhere else because it was out of coffee? Did they stop to chat with a coworker on their break? While micromanaging employee location tends to reduce morale, tracking it in this situation is absolutely vital from both a safety and a business perspective.
It also requires a level of agility that your staff may not have. It has to be done quickly and it is not always reliable. Before you know it, you're having to send everyone home and shut down the plant for days. For small offices and workshops, manual contact tracing can work well, where everyone knows everyone and you have a relatively small number of employees and locations to deal with. For large factories, it is potentially cost-prohibitive.
Thankfully, there are ways to support contact tracing that reduce the amount of labor needed and increase speed. Modern technology can help by tracking the location of employees. You may already have systems in place to do this for purposes of productivity, making sure everyone evacuates in an emergency, accurate timekeeping, etc. Employee tracking can support many things, including in-building contact tracing.
Businesses should also be willing to be generous on paid sick time not only for people who are infected but for those in quarantine, including employees quarantined because of exposure elsewhere or exposure of a family member from whom they are unable to isolate themselves. Employees should be properly incentivized to report infection or exposure that happens off the clock and should never be penalized for doing so.

How Does Real-Time Tracking Support Contact Tracing?

Real-time tracking supports contact tracing by keeping track of the location of employees at all times. This means that you know the real (as opposed to planned) location of employees, and have an accurate record that does not depend on human memory. Badge-based tracking systems can track visitors as well as employees, and visitors are asked to provide their contact information so they can be reached in the event of an alert.
The tracking system records when people are within six feet of each other, and for how long. It does not take into account the use of masks and other protective gear, which may reduce the risk of infection. The layout needs to be programmed into the system, so it does not flag as close contact when people are on opposite sides of a wall or significant barrier.

Does it Require Additional Infrastructure?

If you are already using Bluetooth for employee and asset tracking, you can use that infrastructure and merely need to add software that helps assess risk and send appropriate alerts. Location-based solutions can give a graduated assessment of risk, allowing employees and supervisors to make meaningful decisions and reduce the cost of unnecessary testing or absenteeism.
Otherwise, contact tracing can also use existing Wi-Fi services, although Bluetooth tends to be more accurate. If you have been considering implementing real-time tracking now is a good time. The system can be integrated with asset tracking to help reduce losses, spot production bottlenecks, and improve procedures. This means that the infrastructure remains in place for other purposes and can easily be reactivated if there is a later wave of COVID or an outbreak of a different infectious disease. It can even be kept in place to help track more common threats, such as norovirus or Legionnaire's disease, in a way that manual contact tracing cannot be, because of the higher expense. By reducing occupational exposure, it will continue to reduce absenteeism in the future.

How Does the System Work?

When an employee or visitor reports that they have tested positive for COVID-19, the system will check their contacts for the previous 14 days, and assess the amount of risk experienced by those contacts.
The system then informs supervisors so that exposed workers can be sent home. Potentially, as testing becomes cheaper and easier, on-site testing could be deployed to ensure that employees are tested before they leave the office. Visitors can be notified so they can make their own informed decisions. 
By notifying workers at high risk of exposure, the system reduces downtime, reduces the number of employees who have to be sent home, and saves money on testing. It can also be used to track locations where the employee spent a lot of time so that extra cleaning can be done as needed, particularly of high-touch areas.
The user will receive reports that support compliance and also help them keep track of places they have been. This can also be passed on to supervisors so that they can address risky behavior such as lingering in break rooms in close quarters. It can be used to enforce temporary closures of high-risk common areas such as kitchens, or assess actual use so that sanitation procedures can be optimized (which will remain useful long after the pandemic).
The BLE tags used in the badges are affordable enough that a lost badge or one not returned by a visitor is not a major cost. Badges can easily be distributed and collected and visitor badges can easily be sanitized or, alternatively, a phone app can potentially be used to reduce social contact further. Badges can also be used to facilitate contactless access, which also helps with infection control.
Kontakt.io has put together the COVID-19 Contact Tracer Webapp, which works with a Bluetooth-based employee, visitor badges,  that provides a report of people who are likely to have been exposed. This can then be used to determine who needs to be tested or isolated. The system is designed to control spread, reduce unnecessary testing, and decrease employee and visitor anxiety. It can also be used to improve sanitation and decontamination plans by tracking actual usage of high-touch areas. Our app provides compliance reports, shows locations on a layout so that actual contact can be determined, and ranks exposure in a graduated way for proper risk assessment. Contact us to find out more and schedule a demo.
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[Updated for 2020]
[Updated for 2020]