Contact tracing is important especially in a work environment. If this is neglected or avoided it can lead to a domino effect of infections and eventual shutdown of the workplace like it happened in some place like FORD.
Among many other concerns of the employers during covid, contact tracing is one important. Contact tracing when done manually in a workplace is an HR nightmare. Any contact tracing activity done is bound to be error-prone. This is additionally constrained when it comes to a workplace scenario where rules and regulations come into play.
What is Contact Tracing?
It is a generic term and not something that got coined for the Corona pandemic. It is a monitoring process that is used in all cases of community spreads of diseases especially those which spread by coming in close contact.
Anyone coming in contact with an already infected person is a high-risk person. The person has two risk factors, a) he himself gets infected and affected by the virus b) he can pass the virus to others who come in contact with him.
The process of closely monitoring such a person after exposure to an infected person is called contact tracing. It is important as it will help such contacts to get proper guidance and treatment. This would also help prevent further transmission of the virus by isolating such contacts thus limiting the spread.
The contact tracing has three steps:
- Contact identification: After a person has tested positive for Covid, the people who have come in contact with the person are identified. These contacts are identified by knowing about the person’s activities and the people around them since the time the infection could have become transmittable. When identifying these contacts, family members, work colleagues, friends, or health care providers – all are considered by the authorities.
- Contact listing: As a next logical, all these people who have contact with the infected person should be listed. These contacts then need to be informed about their status, what is relevance, what are the follow-up actions. In such a situation, it is needed that they are advised about the ways to prevent the spread of the infection. It is important that they receive early care for developing symptoms. If a contact is found to be a high-risk candidate then quarantine or isolation, either at home or in a hospital or ward is mandated.
- Contact follow-up: As a follow-up, regular checkups with these contacts should be conducted to see if any symptoms have developed and if any tests are needed.
The people who conduct this tracing activity are called Contact Tracers. These are critical people in this process and a lot depends how the tracings are done
What is Close Contact and Risk Levels?
To do effective contact tracing it is important to understand what is meant by close contact. Typically a high-risk exposure is considered as close contact. Let us look at definitions of high-risk exposure.
High Risk Exposure
Any activity involving an infected person without the use of any kind of protective equipment involving the below can be considered as high risk even or exposure:
- Any physical contact
- Face to Face interactions within 1 metre for more than 15mins
- Exposures to secretions
- sharing room with any aerosol-generating activity
Close Contact in the workplace
In a workplace situation, it becomes very difficult to avoid situations where some close contact does not ensue.
Close contact workplace examples
Few examples of such close contacts or high-risk contacts which one would experience in a workplace:
- Being in close conversation with the infected person for more than 15 mins
- Physical contact with the infected person
- Touching items used by the infected person
- Meetings in a small room without aeration or having AC for more than 15 mins
Contact Tracing in the workplace
In a workplace, the process of contact tracing does not change but it definitely becomes complicated and important. Once an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, companies need to quickly identify and notify co-workers possibly exposed during the infectious period.
The process of contact tracing undertaken at the workplace would be a scaled-down version of what is done typically by public health officials on a large scale. It is important to form a team that will work on contact tracing. This team would need to be sent to talk to the employees. These team members would be responsible for ensuring that confidentiality is maintained as well as information is accurately captured. It would be better if these team members can be given some training on how to interact with the employees. It would be good for the company to form a contact tracing policy and a process. This policy and process should be shared with the employees. All these measures will help build the confidence of the employees as well as ensure that the business complies with the mandatory rules imposed by the local governing bodies.
Challenges of Contact Tracing in the workplace
The activity of contact tracing has multiple challenges when it comes to implementing it in a working environment:
The fact that manual Tracing needs everyone to recollect who they may have been in close contact within the office during the period in question. This becomes an error prone process since it depends on how good the memories are as well as how accurate the employees provide information.
The major concern that employers need to maintain is that of confidentiality. The employees in their own right are concerned about how data about their health or location is accessed and used. It is the responsibility of the employers to be careful of how they handle employee data otherwise they would be violating their local privacy laws.
Another major challenge faced by the employers or HR is that of not alarming the entire workforce.Typically any such news would spread very quickly and would lead to employees choosing to stop coming to office. It is therefore important for the contact tracers to handle the situation tactfully.
Alternative to manual Contact Tracing
Contact tracing manually in a workplace becomes difficult given all the challenges outlined. It would be great if there was a solution to avoiding these pitfalls in this process of contact tracing.
Answer is an obvious yes, technology does have a way out for this problem. The solution lies in a technology which is finding a lot of traction. Read more about How internet of things can help do contact tracing to understand the solution.