The concept of contact tracing—identifying those who may have come into contact with an infected person—has been around for some time now. Contact tracing is an essential tool for epidemiologists, public health experts, and medical professionals to manage and mitigate outbreaks of infectious diseases like Ebola and Swine Flu. 

In 2020, of course, contact tracing has been pivotal to combating the spread of coronavirus. In places like New Zealand, robust contact tracing programs have been implemented to great effect. In countries like the United States, without a centralized federal contact tracing program, initial contact tracing efforts have primarily been put in place by healthcare institutions, governmental entities and nonprofit/voluntary services. Increasingly, however, we are seeing a new addition to that list, as private companies have recognized the value of maintaining their own contact tracing programs.

An essential tool

While contact tracing is primarily aimed at improving public health and safety, contributing to a deeper medical and scientific understanding of the spread of the coronavirus, and adding statistical heft to critical local, state and federal benchmarks and statistics, private companies have other reasons to value an effective contact tracing program. Executive decision-makers are recognizing that contact tracing is an essential part of fulfilling their obligation to basic duty of care and compliance standards. In other words: protecting themselves from liability exposure by making sure they are taking reasonable measures to protect employee health and provide a safe working environment.

While contact tracing is primarily aimed at improving public health and safety, contributing to a deeper medical and scientific understanding of the spread of the coronavirus, and adding statistical heft to critical local, state and federal benchmarks and statistics, private companies have other reasons to value an effective contact tracing program. Executive decision-makers are recognizing that contact tracing is an essential part of fulfilling their obligation to basic duty of care and compliance standards. In other words: protecting themselves from liability exposure by making sure they are taking reasonable measures to protect employee health and provide a safe working environment.

Places of need

With the exception of very small companies with less 10 than employees, virtually every mid-to-large-sized organization would benefit from reliable in-house contact tracing. Details and specifics may vary somewhat depending on the size of the organization, and the nature of the work and the workplace itself, but, in general, companies where employees need to be on-site (banking institutions, warehouses, construction, healthcare institutions, just to name a few) are most in need of robust contact tracing. The National Basketball Association (NBA) is getting a great deal of well-deserved publicity for their management of the coronavirus, which included significant contact tracing efforts. But few (if any) organizations have the luxury of the NBA’s self-contained “bubble.”

Caveats and complications

It’s important to note that CDC guidelines don’t allow employers to inquire about activities and contacts outside of the workplace. Private contact tracing must be limited strictly to employees and other employee contacts and potential exposures. The extent of those exposures can be significant, however, and the onset of cold and flu season will only make contact tracing efforts more challenging—and more pivotal. Any “COVID-like symptoms” must be treated seriously. For contact tracing purposes, you must assume everything is COVID until you know it isn’t. Another issue is that the potential long-term liability implications of COVID-19 exposure are still unclear. We will almost certainly see workers compensation claims and other legal action in the future, and it’s far more likely that a company without this type of program will be exposed to potential liability.

Capable partners and comprehensive solutions

The best security partners are proven providers of comprehensive contact tracing solutions. They are able to provide supplementary investigations support, crisis management expertise, and additional manpower as needed. They are security experts and advisors—not just call center personnel. A true security partner allows you to pivot, expand, or adapt your contact tracing program if necessary, delivering a level of focus, flexibility and efficiency that an in-house HR effort or a fly-by-night contact tracer start-up simply cannot offer. That flexibility is especially important given the relative newness and unpredictable nature of the coronavirus, and the speed with which circumstances can change in a region or an organization. The right program should have robust technology to identify sick or symptomatic individuals, and a system that triggers and initiates a contact tracing protocol. The right partner should also be able to handle any required reporting to public health entities for companies that do not have the capacity to handle that themselves.

The new normal

Finally, companies need to recognize that the quality of their internal messaging and communication is critical for the success of any contact tracing program. The best security partners understand the need for complete buy-in from key stakeholders and have the ability to translate that commitment throughout the company—making sure everyone understands program objectives and how it benefits the organization and its employees.

The implementation of a high-quality contact tracing program is the ideal moment to revisit their overall crisis management and business continuity plans. Some of the communication channels and monitoring/reporting infrastructure that gets put in place to handle contact tracing can and should be a part of crisis planning and emergency management protocols going forward.

Published October 29, 2020

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