The Complete Guide to Contact Tracing

Introduction

Prior to 2020 “contact tracing” was an unfamiliar term for most of us. The pandemic of course changed all that, just look at the uprise in “contact tracing” searches last year in Australia compared to the previous year.

You probably didn’t realise this but contact tracing has been around a long time, dating back as far as the bubonic plague outbreak of 1576.

Back then there were no QR codes, no smart phones, and no internet, but medical doctors saw the value of manually tracing the spread of a disease even if it was just for research purposes.

Today, contact tracing is well regarded as one of the best ways to minimise the spread of a deadly virus, keep businesses operation and ultimately save lives.

While we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to ‘checking in’ wherever we go, there’s still some confusion about what contact tracing involves and how it can be safely applied to everyday practices and situations, including work environments.

An overview of contact tracing

Contact tracing is the process of identifying and notifying people who have been exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease. The process looks like this:

Step 1

A person is identified as having a communicable disease and this is reported to public health officials who contact the person to try and trace their movements back to the potential person who they have caught the virus from. This can include reaching out to places the person has visited to request a list of close contacts.

Step 2

Those people at risk are contacted by public health officials and given instructions on what to do. If it’s not possible to contact these people, a public health alert is issued with details of the person’s movements so the public can help authorities get in touch with those that may have come in contact.

The challenges

Capturing the right data in order to identify close contacts is the biggest challenge to effective contact tracing.

Timing is crucial, with some industries required to provide records within the first 2-4 hours after notification of a serious illness (including COVID-19).

Details of someone’s movements and who they have been in contact with need to be accurately logged along with the correct contact details of those close contacts. This falls back on individuals supplying the correct details, but also on businesses putting in processes and leveraging technology to collect the right information.

For some businesses, such as gyms, hospitality venues, funeral homes and places of worship, it’s mandatory to register as a COVID Safe business in which people must check-in.

Sometimes identifying close contacts is not enough though as exposure to a virus can also occur from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, such as tools, workstations, or break room tables.

5 Contact tracing best practices

1. Collect accurate data

It’s impossible to perform accurate contact tracing without the correct data. As we discussed, collecting the right information is the biggest challenge to the contact tracing process.

If using static QR codes, make sure there is someone at the entrance who can oversee this process to ensure people are checking-in. Unfortunately, people don’t always enter the correct information so you may want to consider cross checking driver licenses with sign-in data.

If using facial recognition to check-in people, make sure you have their consent to do so. While people can try to evade this process, with a system like Nirovision a workplace can be notified if a face is detected but has not signed in.

2. Go touchless

If COVID taught us anything, it’s how easy germs can spread, not just from close contact with others but from surfaces that others have touched. This is why everywhere you look, the world is going touchless.

From automated pedestrian crossing at traffic lights, to carpark boom gates that open automatically, there is a big move towards touchless solutions and the check-in process is no exception,

If you are a business with pin codes, old fingerprint technology or swipe cards that can be easily shared and passed around, you should consider implementing touchless technology to protect your people.

3. Automate it if you can

Collecting visitor information and logging worker attendance daily can be an expensive, time consuming and cumbersome task when done manually.

Even with manual QR codes the process still requires someone on the ground enforcing check-ins.

This is where automatic recognition of an individual helps, especially those people that are repeat visitors such as employees, contractors, cleaners and others. The whole process should be simple, fast and easy for these people.

4. Make it easy to generate reports

When it comes time to pull a report on the people that have visited your workplace, the process should be quick and easy.

Under the COVID-19 Safety Plan for most states, it’s a requirement to keep a record of name, contact number and entry time for all staff, volunteers, visitors and contractors for a period of at least 28 days. So you should have all this information in one place.

5. Understand privacy obligations

According to Australian Government guidelines, workplaces must adhere to the following:

  • Personal information should be used or disclosed on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.
  • Only the minimum amount of personal information reasonably necessary to prevent or manage COVID-19 should be collected, used or disclosed.
  • Consider taking steps now to notify staff of how their personal information will be handled in responding to any potential or confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Ensure reasonable steps are in place to keep personal information secure, including where employees are working remotely.

Contact Tracing Methods

There are a few different methods of collecting data of where people have been and who they have been in contact with. This can be done manually – whereby, someone who has an infectious disease is made to recall all people they’ve been in contact with up until three days prior to symptoms – however that’s both inaccurate and incredibly time consuming.

Thankfully there are better ways to collect information. Some of the technologies used to improve contact tracing include:

COVIDSafe App

This is an Australian government initiative that requires Australian to download an app that uses Bluetooth to take note of other app uses that you come in contact with.

This information is encrypted and stored locally on your phone. If someone you have been near with the same app in the past 21 days later tests positive for COVID-19, health workers can contact you quickly and let you know what steps you will need to take to keep yourself, and those around you safe.

This method of contact tracing is only useful if a large portion of the population is using it. Unfortunately this hasn’t been in the case, as bluetooth accuracy and privacy concerns have led to low adoption rates.

Static QR Codes

This method requires individuals to manually check-in when visiting an indoor location such as a restaurant or worksite. This is done via printed QR codes that open a government web form where individual can enter their name and contact details alongside the date and time of entry.

The information is stored on a government database and is only used by government officials for the purpose of contact tracing (if required).

This method of data collection is much more popular as it’s a mandatory requirement to enter select businesses. For example, as of 1 January 2021, it became mandatory for all hospitality and hairdressing businesses in NSW to use the Service NSW QR code check-in system. Within one week of the first announcement (two weeks before mandatory practice), 50,000 NSW businesses had registered with the app, and 2 million people had used it.

There are however challenges with some people not filling in details correctly or evading the process entirely. There is also the labour costs involved to man this process and ensure everyone who enters checks in.

Static QR codes are best for businesses that get a lot public traffic, and have someone on hand to ensure people check-in e.g. gyms, hospitality venues, salons, and places of worship (in some states such as NSW it’s mandatory for these types of businesses to use the NSW Government QR Code system).

Touchless check-in and visual contact tracing with Nirovision

This method uses facial recognition software to provide touchless check-in. This can be via an iPad or professionally installed IP camera located at the entrance. A workplace can also integrate Nirovision with other cameras around the business to enable visual contact tracing.

With Nirovision facial recognition, workplaces also have the option of adding Dynamic QR Codes which can be used for checking-in new visitors and onboarding regular visitors such as employees.

Dynmic QR codes can be set up too display time a repeat visitor is identified or only when a new face is identified. This can save regular visitors such as employees from answering the same questions each day.

The benefit of facial recognition is more accurate sign in data (due to a face being linked to the information) and notifications for those that fail to sign in. There are also less labour costs due to the automated process of identifying people.

Such technology can also link with thermal cameras to provide temperature analytics and access control systems to grant or deny entry.

Visual contact tracing

Imagine being able to see and remember the whereabouts of everyone on-site on any given day without manual logs. With visual contact tracing, you can.

This is another feature of Nirovision. If a workplace integrates Nirovision software with strategically placed cameras around the business, then a workplace can generate a detailed contact tracing report with just a few clicks.

Using our apps, customers select a time range to see who an individual was seen with, what cameras they were seen on, and what other people where seen within a similar window of time.

In addition to knowing who was in close contact, visual contact tracing results can highlight the need to enhance cleaning regimes, revisit workplace facilities, layouts and processes, and rethink shifts.

Nirovision is best for industrial businesses that want a safe, seamless and automated process for identifying mostly regular visitors such as employees.

The privacy laws around facial recognition

If considering leveraging facial recognition technology for check-ins and contact tracing, it’s helpful to know the laws around the use of facial recognition in the workplace.

To help, we commissioned expert lawyer Shah Rusiti, Partner at Teece Hodgson & Ward, to develop a guide that covers everything you need to know about facial recognition and Australian privacy law.

Click here to get the guide

Does your WHS obligations change under a COVID Safe Plan?

There should be no change to your obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 No 10 (WHS Act) and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (WHS Regulations)

According to most state governments having a COVID Safe Plan and complying with Chief Health Officer (CHO) directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the WHS Act and Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations.

Conclusion

Contact tracing is the process of identifying and notifying people who have been exposed to a person who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease.

Capturing the right data at check-in is one of the biggest challenges of contact tracing. There are many methods to collecting information including the COVIDSafe App, static QR codes and new technologies such as touchless check-in and dynamic QR codes using facial recognition.

There are many benefits using facial recognition to make the check-in process simple, secure and safe.

Contact tracing practices include:

  • Leveraging technology that collects the right data
  • Going touchless to prevent the spread of germs
  • Automating the check-in process
  • Using technology to easily generate reports
  • Understanding privacy obligations.