Contact tracing: Innovative tracking device could help stem coronavirus pandemic

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- An innovative "COVID-19 tracker" that can detect when an individual was possibly exposed to the coronavirus might soon be coming to your school or workplace.

At the Center for Early Education, a private independent elementary school in West Hollywood, administrators and staff have been mobilizing, preparing for students when they're able to safely return to campus in 2021.

Directional signage, creative reminders to stay 6 feet apart and something new: microchips that are part of a digital contact tracing system. Every student, teacher and staff on campus will wear one.

"I was looking for something that I could use with 2-year-olds or 12-year-olds where the price point wouldn't be so high," said the head of school, Reveta Bowers.

Bowers said a pediatric epidemiologist suggested she look into the AlertTrace contact tracing system for her students and staff.

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"They were a very small device," Bowers said. "In the case of young children, you can clip it to the back of their shirt."

The mini microchips, powered by tiny batteries, track the movements of everyone wearing them.

"We set our system so that if you get within 6 feet of another person it will emit a tiny little signal," Bowers said.

But more importantly, she said, the devices document those interactions, sending that data to 27 hubs installed throughout the campus.

"It's an innovative solution for a difficult problem," said Kyle Hopkins, a spokesman for VOS Systems, which launched AlertTrace six months ago.

The problem he's referring to? The tedious work of contact tracing.

"It kind of does everything on its own," Hopkins said. "It collects the data and then if, for some reason, you did have someone test positive for COVID you could easily go into the system, search for their user ID and then see everybody that individual came in contact with -- the date, the time and how long those contacts were for."

Hopkins says no one's identity is revealed. The system tracks user ID numbers, not names.

At the Center for Early Education, the microchip minis stay on campus when students go home.
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