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Schools turning to new tech to keep students safe

Posted at 10:11 PM, Aug 05, 2021

As kids get ready to return to school, Brian Smith is zeroed in on students' safety.

“This is something I’ve been living and breathing for the last probably, 20 months,” said Smith.

Since the pandemic, he has been acting as the COVID health officer for the Lakeside School in Seattle.

His number one priority is keeping kids safe.

“We have a three-prong approach. The first one would be where we do screening testing for every student, the second one was obviously screening, daily health screenings," Smith said, "The third is contract tracing,”

The third prong is where Brian says he can give students and parents the most peace of mind. To effectively conduct contact tracing, the school has been using an app from Trace Innovations.

“All students, faculty, and staff download the app. Then it just runs in the background using Bluetooth gauging their proximity and other members of the community,” said Graham Grieve, who works at Trace Innovations

Grieve was teaching English in Italy when the pandemic began. Now he's the founder of Trace Innovations.

“And if someone tests positive, or even reports symptoms to the school nurse, then the school nurse can go into the dashboard, change the individual's status, and immediately you can see all close contacts within a matter of seconds,” he said.

His first thought as a teacher was that losing in-person education would have a dramatic impact on students.

“We set out to protect that in-person education. Looking at the different health and safety protocols that schools would be using to n, contact tracing had the most holes in it. With traditional method contact tracing, you’re relying heavily on the individual recollection of students, and we realize that there was a need to provide more reliable information to schools,” said Grieve.

Trace Innovations' app is being used by about 30 schools right now.

The system is easier to use in schools where students are older... like the students at Lakeside, which is grades five through 12 because more kids are likely to have smart devices. But Graham says it’s been used in elementary schools with the devices of staff as well.

For Smith and the Lakeside community, it’s essential.

“We have the ability to drill down specifically to a classroom, a hallway, an area where students passed by each other, and we can determine how much exposure there was,” said Smith.

That level of precision is just non-negotiable for Smith, especially when he thinks about last school year.

“The cases were spiking as the anxiety level was going through the roof. It allows a lot of my job, to try and keep families keep students as calm as I possibly could so we could do everything possible to get our kids back in class,” said Smith.

Smith estimates the school did 14,000 COVID tests last school year. They only had 11 positive cases. He hopes by combining Trace Innovations with other safety measures, and their caseload is even lower.