Though it’s not the end of the school year, academic institutions across the country are already thinking about reopening their doors this fall due to vaccine rollout. Yet, many — including parents — are worried about how schools will address vaccine gaps in this new learning environment.
Institutions will address these gaps by implementing a series of safeguards and leveraging technologies to bring teachers back to the workplace safely, even if they’re unvaccinated. Savvy institutions are investing in digital contact tracing tools, which provide schools with the data needed to plan, prevent, and react precisely to mitigate risk to faculty and students.
Each school’s return strategy is unique depending on student composition, state mandates, and overall risk tolerance. Administrators need to determine which tools meet their needs, the processes required to roll out the technology, and how to meet safeguards that ensure the safety of students and staff, all while easing the minds of parents.
The tech to invest in now
As schools reopen, investing in emerging technologies is crucial to fill the vaccine gaps left by unvaccinated students, faculty, and parents. Whether it’s digital health questionnaires linked to QR codes providing building access, online dropboxes for assignments, or smartphone apps allowing for contactless payments in the cafeteria, academia has a variety of options to remain contactless.
Without the proper technology in place to fill these vaccine gaps, there is a possibility that schools will once again be forced to close their doors and go virtual. For example, if a student or teacher is ill, the entire school may need to go remote to ensure health and safety. With tools like digital contact tracing available, only those that came into contact with the infected individual will need to isolate.
Digital contact tracing solutions provide schools with the visibility to spot a potential COVID outbreak and mitigate the situation. Whether provided via a mobile app or standalone device, digital contact tracing can identify high-risk individuals and allow schools to make the call on who should or should not be on campus.
There has been some concern about digital contact tracing solutions over the last year. Critics worry about the data these apps and devices track and collect. Understandably, schools may be hesitant to invest in technology that infringes on student privacy. However, well-designed contact tracing solutions are privacy-led, and this focus can increase adoption.
Instead of tracking where students are (geolocation data), some contact tracing solutions use ambient signals to determine when two devices (and their owners) come into contact with each other and store only the distance and duration of the interaction, not the time or place. Further, these devices place control in the hands of the user with an on/off switch, placing the user in control of when their signal data is collected for privacy reasons. All data is anonymized and affiliated with a randomized ID number, which can only be unlocked by administrators when an individual reports infection.
While some schools may reopen doors before June 2021, administrations should begin making the plans to invest and experiment with this technology now so that they are fully prepared for the potential full return of students this Fall.
Building on your tech with the right safeguards
Once administrations make the proper investments in technologies to mitigate COVID-19 in the classroom, backing up this tech with the right safeguards is crucial.
Schools can do this in a variety of ways, like providing on-site screen testing to ensure that anyone entering the building has tested negative. They can also provide diagnostic testing recommendations for anyone on campus — whether that be through an individual’s provider or a local public health clinic.
One critical, but often overlooked, disruption is the anxiety some students, faculty, and staff may face with a return to in-person activities. Visual cues like signs, physical distancing, masks, and contact tracing devices can help remind people that all precautions have been taken to ensure a safe return, so their attention can shift from safety to learning.
While a full return to school is ideal, administration will have to properly vet what type of gatherings are crucial for in-person. For example, administrators should consider limiting parent in-person interactions. Gatherings such as a PTA or faculty meetings could be held virtually in order to keep a large number of individuals off of the school campus.
Educational institutions have embraced technology significantly since the start of the pandemic. This time last year, tech helped schools shift students to a remote setting. Now, these solutions invite students back into the classroom. While vaccinations may offer a level of comfort in the wake of this return, an added layer of safety is needed as there are still roadblocks to getting a dose.
Digital contact tracing provides this added safety layer through the data it delivers. In turn, schools are able to make informed decisions on who is allowed on campus, as well as whether a full shutdown is necessary in the case of an infection. Couple these technologies with proper safeguards like continual testing and vetting non-student-related gatherings, and the hallways of schools across the country may be safe to return to once again.