Gervais School District has successfully kept staff and students safe and onsite with contact tracers.

COURTESY PHOTO: KEN STOTT, GERVAIS HIGH SCHOOL - Contract tracers used by Gervais School District can alert students and staff when they are at unsafe distances from each other and monitor who has been exposed to whom, minimizing the extent of quarantine activity in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.Contact tracers recently implemented by the Gervais School District seem to be working.

More than a month after transitioning into a hybrid model of learning, the district's use of Instant-Trace lanyards supplied through Fleetwood Electronics is reportedly a successful undertaking. Moreover, they have not posed any problems or hardships for participating staff and students as some speculated when the use of tracing technology was announced.

Only about 35 district students remain in the strictly remote learning model. GSD Superintendent Dandy Stevens said there were 13 students in the district from seven families who decided for their own reasons that they did not want to wear the tracing devices, which help students monitor safe distancing and record exposure.

Gervais is working in conjunction with Marion County Health Authority on this use of technology, which to date has not been implemented in any other school district in Oregon, though a number of other superintendents have contacted Stevens to learn about it.

Should a COVID-19 case arise in the district, the devices indicate who may have been exposed. The upshot is that specific information about exposure can preclude the need for mass quarantines.

And it has.

"A few weeks ago we had our first confirmed infection at the high school," Stevens said. "We received the information about the exposure at 3:15 p.m., which is the end of the school day, and by 3:20 we had identified all people who had been within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes. They worked exactly has we hoped and in a fraction of the time."

Stevens said the information minimized disruption at the school.

"The other factor to consider is we had to go back to the previous week to determine possible exposures, and by using technology we were able to narrow the search much more quickly compared to having to sort through paper logs," Stevens said. "Rather than having to send home entire cohorts, we sent home six people."

Stevens first learned of the technology in January while watching a television news report. The report highlighted a school that had remained open throughout the pandemic by using contact tracers. That intrigued the superintendent and spurred her to have conversations with the district's tech department employees.

She learned that there were schools in California and Ohio that made use of the technology, and that professional and NCAA sports teams were also using it.

Gervais has needed to keep significant staff on hand throughout the COVID-19 closures to ensure services, such as the school lunch and daycare programs, could continue.

"That was manageable when we did not have the kids in the building, but once got kids back in the building, we needed to (explore options)," Stevens said. "We were looking for a system that would keep people safe and onsite. Why not use the technology that is available?"

While the technology's use in school districts has been sparse so far, it has been deployed in number of industries. Fleetwood's varied client list includes auto-parts manufacturers, electronics firms, food service entities, real estate agencies, an eCommerce solutions provider, mining operations and a supplier of upscale furniture.

The manufacturer also uses the tracers with its own employees.

"In addition to using Instant-Trace at Fleetwood, we have also implemented temperature monitoring, hygiene protocols and aggressive sanitation efforts as part of a comprehensive approach to keeping our employees safe," Fleetwood President and CEO Jason Grant told the Grand Rapids Business Journal last spring. "We are proud of this product and are excited about helping America get back to work again."

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- Transitioning with technology