COVID-19 has fundamentally changed almost every aspect of daily life – from how our children go to school to the way in which we work. As case numbers ebb and flow, it has become abundantly clear that, for any kind of normalcy, technology is a must. To that end, private companies are investing in health containment initiatives that help to detect, prevent, and monitor potential cases and reduce the risk of infection for their employees.
One of the single most important elements of doing so is contact tracing. While public agencies in federal, state, and local governments have been scrambling to develop solutions for tracking the outbreak and spread of new COVID-19 cases, many private companies have started implementing their own to protect employees in the interim. These private-enterprise contact tracing solutions present some of the most effective measures by which we can reduce the risk of infection spreading and keep doors open for labor-intensive companies.
What Contact Tracing Does and Why We Need It
Contact tracing is a combination of technology and people who coordinate to identify and track potential cases of COVID-19. Let’s look at a medium-size labor-intensive company as an example. Let’s say you have 1,000 employees on the floor each day working overlapping shifts. Every day, when these employees arrive at work, they provide a self-health assessment indicating that they have no symptoms, have not been exposed to anyone with symptoms, and do not currently have a fever, which is in turn validated by a temperature scanner.
While on the floor, that employee’s interactions with other employees are carefully monitored, and their physical positioning is recorded. If that employee subsequently shows symptoms in the future, these contact tracing efforts allow supervisors to quickly see who was in contact with the sick employee and when, as well as what areas of the facility may need additional cleaning. This allows for the rapid removal of employees from the floor to reduce the risk of spread and so that tests can be arranged.
Without contact tracing and other health containment and PPE initiatives, employees are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19, as was the case at the Smithfield meat processing facility in South Dakota earlier this year where hundreds of employees became sick in a short period of time due to a lack of these protections.
The Benefits of Private Contact Tracing Solutions
Much has been said about the difficulties of implementing effective contact tracing at scale. From a public sector perspective, there are inherent privacy concerns. The prospect of state or federal government agencies tracking large numbers of people can create pushback in the population. At the same time, an effort on that scale requires significant engineering. Michigan, for example, is using SurveyMonkey to collect new case data every week and report on it, and there is no real-time infrastructure in place for schools to communicate and report on who tests positive. Each school is responsible to report this information to parents as it comes up. It’s a major challenge to implement something that, until now, has not existed.
In the private sector, it is far simpler to implement this type of solution. Employees are more likely to opt-in to the data sharing and privacy components as it represents their role on a smaller team. A single app can be used and adapted to fit the needs of the organization, with internal IT stakeholders working closely with the app’s developer to keep it operational and matched to the scaled needs of the organization.
In a controlled environment, companies are also able to supplement the use of apps with sensors, automated monitors, and other tools that simply cannot be used at scale in public settings. It’s also feasible to implement policies at scale with a controlled population of individuals. When there are a limited number of people and they have an understood social contract, it’s far less likely that they will follow social distancing guidelines for the duration of their shift, and can contribute to the upkeep of these rules and regulations.
Getting Back to Work Relies on an Effective Contact Tracing Solution
Public health in the United States lacks the resources and scalability to implement contact tracing at scale, and with so many new cases every day in the country, it’s still too difficult to measure and track all of them effectively. As a result, for companies to stay open, individual contact tracing solutions are needed, and for many organizations, they are working quite well.
Not only do these programs help to encourage the right behaviors in the workplace, but they help to normalize the new standards required for us to open and keep open the engine of the economy. This is just as applicable in a large manufacturing setting as it is in an office building or elementary school.
Learn more about how contact tracing is being used by companies of all sizes to protect their employees, and what types of steps you should take to implement similar measures in your company in our Ultimate Playbook to Getting Back to Work Safely.