See how these wearable contact tracing devices are helping companies and hospitals around the world keep employees AND their data safe

by Brianna Crandall — November 20, 2020 — Amid a global spike in COVID-19 infections and related economic lockdowns, data solutions company Microshare’s Universal Contact Tracing solution has been selected to help some of the world’s largest corporations operate safely and prevent widespread outbreaks, according to the company’s press release about a November 16 report in The New York Times.

Characterized as “hot new tech” by the self-described paper of record, the story cites testimonials from Microshare clients Glaxo-SmithKline (GSK) and Rent-A-Center as examples of how the Bluetooth-enabled wearables are striking a careful balance between effective tracking of hazardous contact events and shielding wearers from undue invasions of privacy.

“[W]earable devices that continuously monitor users are the latest high-tech gadgets to emerge in the battle to hinder the coronavirus,” the paper reports. “Some sports leagues, factories and nursing homes have already deployed them. Resorts are rushing to adopt them. A few schools are preparing to try them. And the conference industry is eyeing them as a potential tool to help reopen convention centers.”

Microshare Universal Contact Tracing wearable

The Bluetooth-based Universal Contact Tracing wearable provides pseudonymous, searchable contact data for workplaces and other environments. Image courtesy Microshare

Microshare introduced Universal Contact Tracing to the market in April, soon after the virulence of the virus became clear and the global economy began to slow due to related shutdown orders. Developed and battle-tested in tandem with GSK and other clients for whom remote working was not a long-term option, the wearable contact tracing solution has since been deployed around the world in manufacturing, healthcare, office, residential and mass transit settings.

GlaxoSmithKline global deployments

According to Budaja Lim, GlaxoSmithKline’s Southeast Asia Regional CIO and head of innovation who helped lead the UCT pilot deployment in Malaysia:

We had senior leadership who initially said, “The solution is good, not fantastic.” But after reviewing a month of contact tracing data, the statement was changed: “This isn’t just good, it’s fantastic!” We’re now viewing this as not only a reactive but a proactive risk management tool.

Rent-A-Center headquarters deployment

As the paper notes: “In Plano, Texas, employees at the headquarters of Rent-A-Center recently started wearing proximity detectors that log their close contacts with one another and can be used to alert them to possible virus exposure.”

Microshare’s Universal Contact Tracing is “easy to use and extremely valuable in identifying people when the exposed person doesn’t remember the contact event,” says Lynn Jenkins, Rent-A-Center’s director of Human Resources.

In hospitals and nursing homes

Another deployment, at nursing homes the UK, is subject to a large test by the UK government and the University of Leeds of the wearable solution at care homes in the country. As in the US and other nations, COVID-19 has been responsible for a tragically high number of deaths and illnesses in residential settings caring for the elderly.

Indeed, Microshare says its entire suite of “Clean=Safe” Smart Facilities solutions has proven crucial in healthcare facilities during the pandemic. Wearable contact tracing has been augmented by occupancy solutions that detect room usage for deep cleaning, predictive cleaning and feedback monitors for common areas, and sensors that track the whereabouts of key mobile assets to improve patient care, operational efficiency and help lower infection rates from dangerous antibiotic-resistance Hospital Associated Infections (HAIs).

“This technology has been extremely useful during the current pandemic as it has allowed our staff to perform more efficiently under heightened pressures,” commented Tony Roberts, CIO of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in London.

Cyd Akrill, Springfield Healthcare Group’s director of Nursing, says the Microshare wearables “could significantly improve the quality of life for the people in our care. Safety is of the utmost importance, but the ease and simplicity of the device could be game-changing for us. To have detailed data to inform our infection, prevention and control allows us to make better informed decisions around visiting — improving safety and the quality of lives for the people we support.

Privacy and pseudonymity

Regarding legitimate privacy concerns, the paper acknowledged that Microshare and other companies “had thought deeply about the novel data-mining risks and had taken steps to mitigate them.”

“The system does not continuously monitor users’ locations,” said Ron Rock, the chief executive of Microshare, “And it uses ID codes, not employees’ real names, to log close contacts.”

According to the paper, Rock added that the Microshare system was designed for human resources (HR) managers or security officials at client companies to identify and alert employees who spent time near a person who tested positive for COVID-19, not to map workers’ private social connections.

Unlike smartphone contact tracing apps, Microshare’s wearables do put at risk “personally identifiable information” (PII) — a significant barrier to smartphone app adoption, the company points out. The wearables, with long battery lives and the implicit consent of the wearer, are also not susceptible to the frequent dead batteries and poor internet and cell coverage that plague cell phones in many settings.

Getting the balance between privacy and safety right has been a focus of Microshare for years, and never has that balance been more important — or more in the public view — than with wearable contact tracing, asserts the company.

From the launch of Microshare’s Universal Contact Tracing solution in late March, the company has made it clear that app-based solutions not only have severe problems of performance and practicality, but also potentially open up those who download such apps to security and privacy violations.

“Companies and industry analysts say the wearable trackers fill an important gap in pandemic safety,” the report continues. “Many employers and colleges have adopted virus screening tools like symptom-checking apps and temperature-scanning cameras. But they are not designed to catch the estimated 40 percent of people with Covid-19 infections who may never develop symptoms like fevers.”

The Microshare UCT solution provides pseudonymous, searchable contact data in workplaces and other environments where social distancing alone may not be enough, allowing companies to conduct reverse database queries to assess exposure and identify effected people when COVID-19 symptoms are reported. Microshare deployments are planned in factories, mines, airports, dormitories, universities, corporate campuses, prisons and other facilities.

Microshare deploys Bluetooth-based, long-battery-life wearables that avoid the many pitfalls of using smartphone apps, which are vulnerable to privacy and security breaches, subject to battery failure or user disabling, and are impractical or forbidden in some environments. Indeed, smartphones that are ubiquitous among wealthy western consumers are not universally adopted in the developing world, where they remain an expensive luxury, adds the company.

For more information, view all of Microshare’s Smart Facilities solutions; learn about Universal Contact Tracing and Microshare’s Clean = Safe suite of COVID-19 solutions; and read the company’s latest white paper: the COVID Cleaning Capacity Assessment (C3A).