These little devices could be the future of contact tracing

COVID-19 contact tracing programs across the country are scaled back as the omicron wave wanes.

Health services are encouraging people to alert their close contacts themselves after testing positive, and those still working as contact tracers are focusing on the most vulnerable communities.

Today, scientists are working to make contact tracing more effective in the future.

“Perhaps contact tracing has not been successful, given the parameters of the disease and the spread of COVID. But, in the future, there may be another disease that will spread from ‘a slightly different way, and then contact tracing could be an extremely effective tool that’s stopping the spread,’ said Saw Woo Nam, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “So I think we just need to have those tools ready in case you know we have another pandemic.”

Nam worked on a radio system for contact tracing. The tiny devices can be worn, carried or mounted in poorly ventilated areas, such as an elevator, to monitor the spread of disease.

Radio system devices, which use Bluetooth to communicate, help protect privacy because they are not tied to the person wearing them.

Nam also says the devices can be used in places where smartphones aren’t constantly monitored.

“It might be easier to deploy it, for example, in nursing homes or in schools with children,” Nam said. “Kids could wear it, it could be a little more organized so kids could run around the playground and not worry about it breaking because they smashed it into something. “

Nam estimates that mass production of the devices would cost less than $10 per unit. He also sees the potential for its use with animals in the future to stop the spread of disease in the food supply.