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Combating COVID-19 with IoT Smart Systems – Part 1 – Contact Tracing

The rise of the pandemic has caused socio-economic distress across the population of all the countries and is still on the rise in terms of Infection rate. It is of utmost importance in this situation to be able to trace the infected people, quarantine them and give efficient treatment and continuously monitor such patients for the further duration to ensure the infection is not dormant and completely cured. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interconnected nodes/devices that can collect, operate and transmit data to a gateway. PROLIM’s IoT Solution can be quite useful in this dire situation in remote monitoring of COVID affected patients and administering vaccines and reducing overall maintenance costs for the hospitals. This will be part of a series of Blogs on Combating COVID-19 with IoT. This series talks about using Contact Tracing mechanism to reduce the spreading of the infection and track the infection momentum.

There is an urgency to identify the infected individuals and isolate them while also tracing back the individual contacts in the immediate past and ensure they are not infected and if they are, find them and isolate them. The traditional method of manually identifying and interviewing is time-consuming and inefficient in densely populated areas. We have to resort to IoT based wireless technologies like RFID, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), GPS, Wi-Fi, etc., Google and Apple joined hands to build the Contact Tracing / Exposure Notification API which can be consumed by Public Authority and Application Developers to build applications for remote sensing, monitoring and informing the authorities when an individual is infected.

Combating COVID-19 with IoT

Tracing Mechanism

  • The Mobile App creates a random BLE identifier string for each individual independent of the User’s identity and private information. This Identifier is beamed like a beacon to other Phones within a range. Both the phones upon exchange of their BLE Identifier string record them locally.
  • At least once per day or more, the application will fetch and download the list of BLE identifiers of Individuals who are COVID Positive and then compare the recorded BLE ID’s with the database of infected ID’s. If there is a match, then the user is provided the next steps to isolate themselves and to inform the Public Authorities for further diagnosis and treatment.
  • The BLE ID’s are also refreshed after an interval to add further security and to keep the individual’s identity completely anonymous.

Goals of Contact Tracing

  1. Break the chain of transmission before the infection can affect large communities and dense population.
  2. Tracking of Primary Infected Contacts based on self-input or proximity with an already affected ID.
  3. Tracking of Secondary and Tertiary contacts based on proximity or interaction with Primary-ID.
  4. Information on total count submitted to all Hospitals so they can control the Patient inflow and prepare the Hospital infrastructure like Ventilators, Wards and Patient Beds, Medicines and vaccines.
  5. Tracking of Quarantined and Home Isolated individuals either asymptomatic or infected.
  6. Alert information when in proximity to an infected individual based on GPS or BLE location.
  7. Alert information when travelling to a densely populated area and areas containing highly infected individuals where the probability of getting infected is naturally high.
  8. Periodic examination based on a questionnaire to assess the individual’s health and continuously monitor the recovery.

Challenges

  • Exposure Notification from Apple & Google requires regular access to the Individual’s Phone and OS and this may cause privacy concerns in some individuals.
  • Countries like India have built in-house contact tracing which captures User’s Identity, Location along BLE Identifier. This may cause privacy panic as personal data is recorded irrespective of whether an individual is infected or not and location history is also being recorded on the App Servers.
  • The low adoption rate in Applications and lack of strict enforcement to be followed by the population.

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