What is contact tracing and how is it done?

Before the turn of the decade, 2020 was already set to be an eventful year. In sports, Japan was to host the 2020 Summer Olympics while EU countries would battle it out on the pitch as part of the UEFA EURO 2020. In entertainment, Billie Eilish was to travel the globe on her third concert tour after sweeping the competition at the GRAMMYs while Weezer, Green Day, and Fall Out Boys were to join forces and cause a wave of nostalgia for all pop-rock-hungry millennials. In politics, Brexit was becoming a reality while the United States was getting ready for another memorable electoral year.


Then COVID-19 happened.


The trending topics that then flooded social media were no longer patriotic pride, celebrity gossips, or political campaigns but terms related to safety recommendations emitted by the World Health Organization (WHO). Terms that went viral included social distancing and contact tracing. While both terms are pretty self-explanatory, contact tracing involves an activity that readers might be less familiar with.


So what is contact tracing?


Although new to many, it’s actually an activity that dates back to a village doctor in 16th-century Italy, first documented during the bubonic plague.


According to the WHO, it’s “the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission.” In other words, it’s to quickly attend to those at-risk of spreading the virus. The keyword in the last sentence is “quickly”, as urged by the CDC.


However, in a public setting, contact tracing is very time- and resource-demanding as it requires trained staff to perform surveys on patients that have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The objective is to list all the people that have been exposed to the recently diagnosed patient and attend to them before they spread the virus to others. It is highly dependent on the patient’s memory and activity log, which is susceptible to inaccuracies. As such, social distancing and other preventative measures occupy an even more important role for these reasons.

What is contact tracing and how is it done

(image via


What about an app?


Apple and Google partnered up (say what?) to create Exposure Notifications, a contact tracing framework for apps to be developed by government bodies. Its adoption rate is currently low, but, rest assured, it can still help communities manage the spread of the virus, no matter the adoption rate. The invasive nature of an app can still be a roadblock for some users, even though it is addressed by the partnership between both mobile OS moguls.


IoT and Contact Tracing


In a work setting, especially one that is non-client facing, it’s slightly different. It’s a more controlled environment because you know who goes in and who goes out. As such, technologies such as Safeteams have emerged to replace the strenuous pen and paper method, turning hour-long inaccurate surveys into rapidly-generated spreadsheets of actionable information. To do so, these technologies depend on IoT systems that connect physical objects or people to a network, making automation possible. For contact tracing, it’s as simple as wearing it while on the job and leaving it at work before clocking out. You don’t have to sign in and it doesn’t follow you home, making it a less invasive option compared to apps. Employers are then no longer working in the dark and can make data-driven decisions that result in time- and cost-effective measures. There are widely available examples that showcase what can happen when work environments are no longer safe due to COVID-19.


What is contact tracing and how is it done

(image via Safeteams)


In conclusion, the concept of contact tracing isn’t very difficult to grasp but its application can be somewhat of a challenge without the help of certain technologies, which reiterates the importance of each individual effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Proper hygiene, wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding non-essential gatherings are all key activities that help the greater good.



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