Looking to Get Back to Business? These Solutions Can Help
Tools to keep workers safe and healthy can help organizations to resume operations during the coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest challenges the world has faced. The impacts on people, businesses and institutions have been incalculable. But many businesses, schools and organizations are looking to resume operations.
To do so, these organizations must find ways to prevent sick people — whether they are students, workers or customers — from coming into contact with healthy people. They also must destroy the virus wherever possible. A new set of technology solutions has emerged to help organizations achieve these aims, and they typically can be supported by existing IT infrastructure.
Solutions for safe, in-person operations comprise four main categories: temperature screening, sanitization, social distancing (occupancy counting and contact tracing) and protective shields. Together, these provide a layered defense for the whole cycle of employee, customer and student engagement: before they enter an environment; while they are in the environment, interacting with others or using devices; and after they leave the environment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies temperature screening as a preventive measure, best used in concert with social distancing. Thermal screening is a no-touch solution that makes it possible to screen more people by measuring infrared radiation emission, which registers as heat on the skin surface.
As the CDC notes, thermal screening may not detect an elevated temperature, nor does it definitively indicate infection. It does, however, provide a first line of defense to identify individuals who may require additional screening. If individuals register an elevated temperature, staff should pull them aside for a secondary screening with a medical-grade thermometer before permitting them to enter the building.
Mounted thermographic cameras, affixed to a wall, ceiling or kiosk or transported on a cart for mobile checks, automate temperature screening for greater speed and capacity. Cameras are effective at 5 to 20 feet and can scan 20 to 30 people per minute. Organizations can increase their accuracy even more, particularly in environments where it is hard to control ambient temperature, by incorporating thermal reference devices or ambient temperature sensors. Cameras may be stand-alone or integrated into an access control or visitor management system, where they can augment security and surveillance efforts.
Other temperature screening solutions include:
- Noncontact infrared thermometers: These produce highly accurate results. However, they are relatively slow (screening an average of five to 10 people per minute) and require the screener to be within a few inches of individuals being screened.
- Handheld thermographic cameras: This manual solution is significantly faster than a thermometer (10 to 12 people per minute) and effective at a distance of 2 to 6 feet.
- Thermal scanners at kiosks: Self-service scanning eliminates the need for close-proximity staff involvement and offers a screening pace of 10 to 12 people per minute. Kiosks can also support functions such as attendee check-in and digital signage integration.
Schools and colleges, which rely on shared transportation and common areas, present unique challenges from a screening perspective. K–12 students, for example, sit close together on school buses before they ever reach a school. Some districts have considered enlisting bus drivers or parents to conduct temperature screening before students board.
An effective sanitization plan reduces risk and addresses operational efficiencies, ensuring that processes are consistent without overly burdening staff or hampering the customer experience.
In a device-intensive environment, such plans should include a systematic way to manage the disinfection of shared computers, headsets and other objects. For example, K–12 districts using cart-based one-to-one Chromebook programs should establish processes for collecting and disinfecting these devices before distributing them to new users.
Ultraviolet C sanitizing devices and hand-sanitizing stations help achieve these aims. UVC radiation, delivered by a lamp or laser, is the highest-energy area of the UV spectrum. As a disinfection agent, UVC light kills viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms.
UVC sanitizing is available in three delivery modes:
- Drones: Indoor, industrial drones have small, powerful UVC lights to quickly disinfect large surface areas. (Because they are used inside, they do not require the FAA licensing that outdoor drones do.) These have wide applications in healthcare, retail, warehouses, transportation, common areas of schools and businesses, government facilities and athletic facilities.
- Wands: Handheld wands are designed for portability, with a rechargeable battery. They are well suited to classrooms, daycare facilities, small offices and shared tools such as keyboards and instrument panels.
- Platforms and cart cabinets: These disinfect multiple, high-touch devices at once.
Hand-sanitizing stations, which dispense gel or liquid sanitizer, are equally versatile, including wall-mounted, tabletop and freestanding models. Stations equipped with digital signage can serve a communication function as well, from sharing practical messages (such as handwashing reminders) to business information (brand messaging or sales promotion).
Air purifiers remove air contaminants and increase air flow, which is recommended by the CDC for creating a healthier environment. In senior-care facilities, air purifiers can minimize risk for vulnerable populations, particularly given seniors’ susceptibility to respiratory issues. Every facility manager, however, should be mindful that the majority of coronavirus transmission occurs indoors and, accordingly, air purifiers are integral to a robust ventilation strategy.
Social Distance: Occupancy Tracking and Contact Tracing
Social distancing has two key components: occupancy counting, to maintain a safe number of individuals indoors; and contact tracing, to track interactions so that, if needed, organizational leaders or public health officials can manage and mitigate the potential risk of contacts with an infected individual.
Some organizations take a manual approach to occupancy control, posting an employee at entry and exit points and tasking them with coordinating a full occupancy count. This strategy consumes personnel resources, can quickly overwhelm staff and is prone to error. Manual monitoring is also impractical in a large environment, where occupancy counting is most critical.
IP-enabled video surveillance cameras, supported by analytics software that detects and counts people as they enter and exit, automate this function and increase accuracy without additional labor costs.
The same cameras and video analytics tools that organizations already use to plan staffing, analyze movement patterns and manage security can be deployed to track occupancy. This makes it easy to layer in edge analytics and occupancy management software that integrates into an existing video management system, or to install new cameras to address coverage gaps. Organizations that lack a video management system may incorporate a cloud-based system for centralized management of multiple locations in a single dashboard.
Specialized occupancy counting software adds deeper functionality, correlating data from multiple sources and providing clear signals, such as red and green lights, to indicate when it is safe to enter. It can also improve the customer experience by giving visitors an accurate assessment of wait times.
From a management perspective, these solutions facilitate compliance with internal policies and external regulations by:
- Centralizing monitoring for multiple sites
- Monitoring multiple entry and exit points, and aggregating data
- Tracking occupancy by rooms, floors or departments
- Alerting staff when occupancy limits have been reached
- Using dashboards to present timely, actionable data
For visitors, crowd interaction alerts also serve an important purpose. Signage and floor markers are helpful, but often overlooked. Automated alerts can be a better way to enforce social distancing; for instance, when two people come within six feet of each other or when a group of people gather.
If a virus transmission occurs or is suspected, organizations must be prepared to quickly contain the risks. For this purpose, contact tracing — facilitated by body-worn sensors, smartphones or other devices — helps identify people who may have come in contact with an infected individual. These tools have widespread application, but are especially valuable in hospitality, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, public safety and field service environments.
Contact tracing dashboards display proximity events and produce a variety of reports, including historical data that show who each person encountered and the length of each exposure. They can also identify hot zones, or areas where people tend to congregate. In schools, for example, administrators can identify areas where students gather, so they can respond appropriately.
Privacy concerns related to contact tracing may arise. However, many of these solutions rely on anonymization. For example, Bluetooth technology lets smartphones exchange randomly generated numbers that support cross-checking but do not require the exposure of individual identities. Efforts are underway by technology providers in the United States and other countries to build a larger arsenal of privacy- and security-focused contact tracing solutions.
Protective shields allow face-to-face interaction while enforcing separation of personal space. Diverse options let organizations deploy the best solution for a specific purpose, including freestanding, countertop, adjustable, custom-sized, and window or nonwindow features.
In classrooms, shields prevent students from getting too close, while providing a degree of social interaction. In gyms, personal care businesses and professional services firms, shields make it possible to provide service to multiple customers at once. And in offices, particularly those that availed themselves of the open-office trend, desk partitions make it easier to bring teams back together.
To learn more about how to get back to work safely, read the CDW white paper “Getting Back: How to Enable the New Normal.”