01/18/22—The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left the world fatigued since it’s onslaught in late 2019, and it has yet to be over. Adding to this strain, is the knowledge that this will not be the last pandemic the world faces as zoonotic diseases, previously unknown strains that transfer from animals to humans due to our rising encroachment on nature, continue to spillover.1 World governments, healthcare leaders, businesses and communities must organize now to ensure the next pandemic is faced with vigilance. Among the many tools that should be made mission-ready, contact tracing has been utilized in pandemics for decades and has been successful when dispersed quickly and rigorously. Now more than ever it is essential for governments and large-scale organizations to invest in steadfast and reliable contact tracing programs, to alleviate strain and contain the spread of future pandemics.
Globally the success of contact tracing has been mixed depending on several factors, including reaction time to the pandemic, government laws on citizen restrictions and the number of dedicated contact tracers or contact tracing programs being utilized.
For example, South Korea’s contact tracing efforts have proven successful. The country had faced a similar scenario with the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015, and thus had a better understanding of pandemic preparation and response. South Korea’s prompt response to the onslaught of COVID-19 included stringent social distancing and quarantine guidelines, and a contact tracing regime that was scaled to fit their population, unlike countries where there simply wasn’t enough contact tracing to match citizen numbers. According to the New England Journal of New Medicine, a key part of the South Korean contact tracing system was digital contact tracing technology.2 In April 2020, South Korea had 10,423 infections and 204 deaths in their population of 50 million, a stark contrast to other developed nations like the United States which has, thus far, seen over 70 million cases and 949 thousand deaths, with a population of over 330 million.3
Yet, examples like South Korea, which utilized cellphones to keep up with contact tracing, have their fallbacks. People rightfully question the use of digital contact tracing methods like apps, which track their location and can share other personal information using personal cellphones. In Utah for example, there was a public outcry when it was discovered that a contact tracing app was tracking physical GPS locations and personal information. “The trust aspect has been an uphill battle throughout all parts of the response,” said Nicole Roberts, who runs the contact tracing program in Utah.4 Roberts is one of many government officials who has witnessed how public distrust can deteriorate contact tracing efforts, which begs the question, how can contact tracing be effective to the mass public?
The hurdles faced by large-scale contact tracing are evident, as larger numbers are extremely difficult to track (think millions of citizens) and many will fail to adhere to contact tracing. However, when applied on a more organizational level, contact tracing can be quite effective and non-invasive to a person’s privacy.
AlertTrace (AT) by VOS Systems is a digital contact tracing platform that utilizes Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors to track contacts made between small wearables, which can be deployed at scale in very short time. Instead of tracking a person’s specific location, the only thing captured with an AT wearable is which other wearables it has been within range of (a range that can be scaled depending on guidelines). Data is encrypted end-to-end into a cloud-based dashboard for only dedicated admins to view. If a positive case of COVID-19 should occur within the parameters of an organization, admins can look at the anonymized data, find contacts made, then inform and quarantine them discreetly. Spread is contained, and others within the organization are protected.
In multiple studies of AlertTrace clients, wearables have been shown to be efficient at not only quarantining those affected with COVID-19, but stopping COVID from spreading to the rest of the group. For example, a Los Angeles-based private school chose AlertTrace to help fight the spread as it attempted to reopen its doors to in-person learning. With the use of AlertTrace wearables in its 700 plus group of both children and adults, the spread of COVID was successfully stopped four times in the 2020 school year alone.5 “Parents and families, even our employees on campus, feel secure knowing that we are doing this contact tracing,” said Omar Dueñas, the school’s technical director, “knowing that if someone does have it, we will be able to quarantine who needs to be quarantined that same day.”
In another case of AlertTace usage within a packaging warehouse, wearables were dispersed among employees to protect them, as well as keep the business running. Prevention using AlertTrace was key to helping maintain profit and employee hours. With the usage of AT wearables and masks, leadership within the company noted less absenteeism due to general illness, including the fu, and zero loss of productivity.6 “If they were exposed or too close, they were going to know,” said the company’s Vice President of Operations and General Manager Jeanie Nelson. “They are our folk; we want their families to be healthy and happy.”
With the challenges faced by large-scale public contact tracing programs, the appeal of platforms like AlertTrace for businesses and organizations can easily be seen. With AlertTrace privacy is always protected, as wearables are only tracked via BLE technology, and only within set perimeters, i.e., workplaces and campuses. Using a platform like AlertTrace is one way for organizations to assure they do their part in stopping the spread of current and future pandemics, without compromising privacy and other issues. The New England Journal of New Medicine discusses other hurdles, noting that digital contact tracing technologies must be made accessible, particularly to people with limited access to smartphones, those with limited digital health literacy, speakers of languages other than a country’s primary language, and migrant communities.2 These hurdles can be eliminated with AlertTrace wearables, as no activation or maintenance is required by wearers. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) predicts that for success a whole-of-society approach to pandemic preparedness is needed, with roles played not only by the health sector, but also individuals, families, and communities, in mitigating the effects of a pandemic.7 It is imperative for governments to start building their arsenal of tools to mitigate similar inevitable threats. We at VOS Systems are proud to have worked with different U.S government agencies to test deploying AlertTrace at scale.
As we shift our focus to products beyond COVID-19, we remain dedicated to making sure our system continues to be mission-ready to be deployed quickly and at scale when (not if) needed.
1World Health Organization. (n.d.). Zoonoses. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zoonoses
Mackenzie, J. S., & Smith, D. W. (2020, March 17). Covid-19: A novel zoonotic disease caused by a coronavirus from China: What we know and what we don’t. Microbiology Australia. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7086482/
2 O’Connell, J., Author Affiliations From the School of Medicine, Parmet, M. M. M. and W. E., D’Souza, R. N., Puterbaugh, K. M., S. A. Madhi and Others, Cypess, A. M., & Others, V. H. and. (1970, February 26). Contact tracing for covid-19 – a digital inoculation against future pandemics: Nejm. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2102256
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Covid Data Tracker Weekly Review. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html
4 Simmons-Duffin, S. (2021, June 3). Why contact tracing couldn’t keep up with the U.S. Covid Outbreak. NPR. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/06/03/1002878557/why-contact-tracing-couldnt-keep-up-with-the-u-s-covid-outbreak
5 Davidson, A. (2022, February). The Center for Early Education CASE STUDY Protecting Faculty and Students on Campus. www.alerttrace.com. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://secureservercdn.net/188.8.131.52/3×9.7d8.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/AlertTraceCEECaseStudy.pdf
6 Dodd, A. (2021, August). Morton & Bassett Spices CASE STUDY Safeguards Essential Workers’ Safety. https://alerttrace.com. Retrieved February 2022, from https://ss-usa.s3.amazonaws.com/c/308482770/media/1584617029ec7670f85192348888078/MB%20case%20study_8.4.2.pdf
7 U.S. National Library of Medicine. (1970, January 1). Roles and responsibilities in preparedness and response. Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response: A WHO Guidance Document. Retrieved March 1, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK143067/