Editor’s note: Last year RingCentral teamed up with Chexout to help address contact tracing amidst the pandemic. Now, one year into the new normal, we invited them to share their perspective on contact tracing. Enjoy!

Ensuring public safety during March Madness is no slam dunk—but contact tracing is scoring points with local officials

By the time this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship team is crowned, tens of thousands of hoops fans will have journeyed to Central Indiana for the fabled March Madness experience. Even though crowds are capped at 25% of normal capacity and the games are played in just one region, the tournament is still a significant public health concern that officials are monitoring closely.

That’s why we’re teaming up with Marion County Public Health Officials to scale up their contact tracing program with capabilities that are second to none to protect both visiting hoops fans, players, and the local community.

We’re working with local officials and the NCAA to demonstrate the vital role that contact tracing can play in bringing fans together safely at any time—and especially now during a high-profile public event that takes place over the course of three weeks in multiple venues.

“Robust contact tracing continues to be critical for containing the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Virginia A. Caine, M.D., director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department. “Having the ability to reach out quickly and efficiently to those infected with or exposed to the virus is part of our overall effort to minimize the effects of COVID-19 and keep positivity rates low.”

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While the NCAA men’s basketball tournament effort will garner lots of attention, for us, this effort is the culmination of what we’ve learned over the past decade. What’s happening in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas is a testament to the rapid evolution of contact tracing technology and the future of public health programs.

Follow through

Marion County will be equipped with Chexout software, which enables contact tracers and epidemiologists to utilize real-time health information to easily communicate with patients, visualize investigations through cluster diagrams, and identify, monitor, and manage outbreaks as they evolve.

The software uses real-time data from feeds that include COVID-19 test results and proximity trackers that participating teams and fans will be required to wear at all games. Anyone who tests positive will be contacted by Marion County public health contact tracers, a process made easier and more efficient by integration with RingCentral Office, a cloud communications solution including team messaging, video meetings, and a cloud phone system, which enables multi-channel conversations via voice calls and messaging.

That matters because, as we’ve learned, reaching fans via a single mode of communication—whether that’s by voice or email—isn’t always possible, and the ability to use messaging as part of the integrated platform really makes a difference. Reaching patients or anyone in their proximity is extremely time-sensitive, and messaging often results in more timely communication and more effective contact tracing results.

Pandemic playbook

The past year has presented both opportunities and challenges for contact tracing technologies and programs. Here are three key takeaways:

  • Contact tracing has been used to contain infectious diseases for years but has never been called upon in the U.S. to scale in the manner that is required by this health crisis. Many public health departments and private organizations were caught unprepared, and it took them a while to pull together the necessary resources to launch an effective contact tracing program.

 

  • If it wasn’t entirely clear before, it’s evident now that contact tracing is often misunderstood. Unfortunately, some people confuse or conflate contact tracing with Bluetooth-based proximity tracking and feel that it is a tech-driven invasion of privacy. While these technologies sometimes work together (as we’re seeing with March Madness), they’re not the same thing, though they may serve a similar purpose. Contact tracing can’t tell you if you’re standing too close to another person, but it may notify you that you’ve been exposed to someone with a transmissible disease such as COVID-19.

 

  • While COVID-19 is becoming better managed, there is recognition that contact tracing solutions should remain at a higher state of readiness/capability than they were pre-pandemic. Despite these challenges (and more), we’ve come through year one of the pandemic with a heightened awareness of what contact tracing can do to help cities, counties, states, and businesses stay open and keep everyone healthy and employed.

The outlook

Chexout software is helping many agencies trace COVID-19, but government agencies are beginning to understand that there are additional use cases. Though this Coronavirus or another variant may persist for years, there will also be other public health crises and a steady stream of general reportable diseases to track.

More general awareness is needed about the value of contact tracing solutions for protecting everything from normal life to important community events. Contact tracing is a capability that public and private sector organizations should have on hand to scale quickly as needed.

Click here to learn more about contact tracing solutions.