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Why Wi-Fi is the Secret Weapon for Better Contact Tracing as the Holiday Season Nears

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 2 Dec 2020

“We are on like a roller coaster everywhere,” says Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. “We bring cases down, then we let down our guard. But this is a deadly virus — you cannot give it a chance to circulate.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging globally for nine months now and, while swift action in many countries helped drive positive recovery, a new wave has taken the total confirmed cases to 56 million – 20% of them in the United States.  As colder weather takes hold in much of the country and the holiday season draws near, there’s good reason to expect the current trend to continue. 

  • Students returning home from colleges and universities
  • Families and friends getting together for holiday gatherings
  • Sports and social activities moving to indoor environments
  • The start of the holiday shopping season
  • Students returning to campuses after the holidays

Combined with people already back in workplaces and a growing sense of pandemic fatigue, the coming weeks and months have the potential to increase the acceleration of infections, which increases the value of technology that helps battle the virus, like contact tracing.

Contact tracing can be done in many ways – some organizations are using old fashioned tools like pencils and paper, interviews, etc., to try to identify potential exposures.  The problem is that takes too much time and effort, is prone to human error, and the data ultimately still needs to be transcribed into digital format; which leads to more manual and error-prone work.  Others are doing their best with contact tracing apps, like those leveraging the Google/Apple framework, but this is only useful if you have widespread adoption.  Otherwise, these apps can leave gaps in the data.

Fortunately, there’s another option, one that leverages existing technology – Wi-Fi networks.  Wi-Fi has become the ubiquitous connectivity option.  Companies are using wireless networks for their operations and communications, but they are also providing guest Wi-Fi access.  Why not?  It’s simple and costs nothing extra, but gives guests additional value, whether they are sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, shopping for holiday gifts, or out for Saturday night dinner with the family. 

Each of those connections adds valuable data that companies can leverage to better understand their customers and network health.  But, the data is also exactly what’s needed for accurate, real-time contact tracing.

Extreme Networks’ ExtremeCloud IQ solution, for instance, can help any facility perform effective contact tracing whenever a confirmed case arises by tracking and analyzing device movement on their networks.  By understanding user movement, organizations are able to determine the scope of an exposure, including its impact across multiple sites if employees have moved between locations.  An additional benefit is the ability to interface with other applications to leverage network data to drive adherence to protocols and facilitate effective pandemic response.

Capabilities enabled by ExtremeCloud IQ

  • Automatically build tables of potential exposures and alert individuals;
  • Allow employees who have contracted COVID-19 to opt in to alert corporate HR and help contact tracing efforts;
  • Automatically direct cleaning crews to key locations, heavily trafficked areas, and other zones where risk of transmission is higher;
  • When registered guests/customers report a confirmed infection, access to historical network data helps identify areas visited in establishments and potential exposures to employees and even other registered guests, who can be notified to help curb the spread internally and within communities;
  • Real-time heat maps help monitor congestion to alert management about potential safety protocol violations and trigger automated response by leveraging APIs to integrate communications systems into response protocols;
  • Similarly, real-time occupancy data helps ensure adherence to occupancy guidelines and can trigger appropriate communications and actions;
  • Historical heat maps and traffic patterns help identify high-traffic areas that may require more frequent cleaning, or may need revised layouts to create better traffic flows within buildings to reduce close interactions;
  • Security protocols keep all data safe and protect user information to comply with privacy regulations.

With the continued uncertainty around the coronavirus, technology is playing a key role in keeping businesses open during the holidays and beyond.

For companies that are already using their network data to benefit their IT and marketing teams, this is just another opportunity to leverage their infrastructure investment.  And for those that haven’t yet learned all the benefits of network data – and how access to unlimited historical data can help improve business success – it’s time to start getting more from the network than just connectivity.

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