Before Idaho University welcomed students back to school last fall, the school made a big bet on its new virus screening technology.
The university spent $ 90,000 to install temperature scanning stations, which look like metal detectors at an airport, in front of its dining and sports facilities in Moscow, Idaho. When a student’s clock system passes through an unusually high temperature, the student is asked to leave and go to check on Covid-19.
But so far, fever scanners, which detect skin temperature, have caught less than 10 out of 9,000 students living on or near campus. Even then, university administrators cannot say whether the technology is working because they don’t monitor students with fever to see if they continue to be tested for the virus. .
Idaho University is one of hundreds of colleges and universities that have adopted fever scanners, symptom monitors, wearable heart rate monitors and other new Covid screening technologies this school year. Such tools generally cost less than a validated health intervention: regular virus testing for all students. They also help colleges showcase their pandemic safety efforts.
But the struggle at many colleges to stop viruses raises questions about the usefulness of these technologies. A New York Times effort has recorded more than 530,000 viral infections on campus since the pandemic began.
One problem is that temperature scanners and symptom-checking applications cannot catch an estimated 40% of people infected with coronavirus asymptomatic but still capable of infection. Temperature scanners may also be inaccurate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that such symptom-based screening has only “limited effect”.
Schools have difficulty determining whether new devices are working. Many universities and colleges, including well-known research institutions, do not seriously study efficiency.
“So why are we bothering?” Bruce Schneier, a renowned security technologist, has described screening systems as “secure theaters” – tools that make people feel better without actually improving safety. their. “Why spend money?”
More than 100 schools are using a free virus symptom-checking app, called CampusClear, that can prevent students from entering campus buildings. Others have asked students to wear symptom monitors that can continuously monitor for important signs such as skin temperature. And some have tweaked the ID-card swipe system they use to admit students into dorms, libraries and gyms as a tool to track potential exposure to the virus.
Administrators at Idaho and other universities say their schools are using new technology, along with policies such as away from society, as part of an effort to stop large campus viruses. than. Some say it is important for their schools to implement screening tools even if they are only moderately useful. At the very least, they say, using services like daily symptom-checking apps can reassure students and remind them to be alert to other measures, such as wearing a mask.
Some public health experts said it is understandable that colleges have not methodically evaluated the effectiveness of the technology against coronavirus. After all, they say, the schools are not used to regularly testing for new infectious diseases throughout their campuses.
Even so, some experts say they have trouble when universities lack critical information that could help them make more evidence-based decisions about health checks.
“It’s a huge data vacuum,” said Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist now an assistant professor at George Mason University. “The moral of the story is that you can’t just invest in this technology without the validation behind it.”
Other medical experts say the increased surveillance of largely healthy college students does not appear to be overly intrusive, as symptom-checking devices have limited and effective usefulness. of the wearable health monitor for Covid-19 is unknown.
Introducing on-campus screening tools is often difficult. Last fall, the University of Missouri started asking all students, faculty, and staff to use CampusClear, a free app that asks users about possible symptoms, like high temperatures or disappearance. sense. Users who say they have no symptoms will then receive the message “Good to continue!” notices can delete them for entry to campus buildings.
However, at first the school was not required to use CampusClear at the entrance to the building, and some students used it only infrequently, as reported by The Missourian, the campus newspaper. In October, the university started asking people to present their application pass codes for entry into certain buildings, like student centers and libraries. The university has promoted the app as a tool to help educate students.
But how effective it is in preventing the outbreak of coronavirus on campus is unknown. A University of Missouri spokesperson said the school was unable to provide usage data on CampusClear – including the number of students who reported possible symptoms through the app and subsequently had a positive result. with a virus – at the request of the Times reporter.
Jason Fife, marketing director at Ivy.ai, the startup behind CampusClear, said nearly 425,000 people at about 120 colleges and universities used the app in the last semester, creating about 9, 8 million user reports. Many schools, he notes, use data from the app not to track individual virus cases, but to look for symptom trends in their campus.
However, Ivy.ai was unable to rate the application’s effectiveness as a virus screening tool, he said. For privacy reasons, the company doesn’t track individual users who report symptoms and then have positive results for the infection.
At some universities, managers admit that the technology they are applying this school year is not working the way they expected.
Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass., Introduced two tools in the last semester to record students’ whereabouts in the event that they subsequently develop a virus infection and administrators need to keep track of associations. their generation. A system records students’ locations each time they swipe their ID cards into campus buildings. The other person asked students to scan the printed QR code that was posted at some locations around the campus.
At the end of the semester, however, only about a third of the 1,200 students on campus are scanning barcodes. Ethan Child, a Bridgewater senior, said he scanned the QR code but also skipped it while walking in the rain.
“I think it makes sense to ask students to do that – whether or not they actually do it is another matter,” he said. “People can just glance at it.”
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Chris Frazer, executive director of the university’s wellness center, has discovered that the key to hinder coronavirus outbreaks is not technology, but simply regular check-ups – once a week. times, for on-campus students – along with contact tracking, said Chris Frazer, executive director of the university’s wellness center.
“I’m glad we didn’t spend an exorbitant amount” on technology tools, says Dr. Frazer. “We found what we needed were tests and more tests.”
Location tracking tools have proved most useful for “peace of mind”, he added, and for validating the findings of contact trackers, who often learn more about birth dynamics. Get infected by calling them rather than checking their location logs.
Other schools that found location tracking not a useful pandemic safety tool decided not to deploy it anymore.
At Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, administrators say they plan to record students’ locations as they use the on-campus Wi-Fi so that they can be used later in inter-track tracking. lost. Chris Barlow, the school’s director of medical services, said the school had never introduced the system, partly because administrators found that many students had infected off-campus viruses, in situations that were not. comply with public health measures such as wearing a mask.
At the University of Idaho and other schools, administrators have described devices such as fever scanners as an add-on to larger campus safety efforts involving examining students and other measure like social distance.
Last fall, for example, the University of Idaho tested its students for viruses at the beginning and the middle of the semester, while also using a number of randomized tests. The school also uses a wastewater monitoring program to identify an impending virus outbreak at its sister and brother’s halls, proactively quarantining more than a dozen chapters before cases can spread widely. in the community.
C. Scott Green, dean of the University of Idaho, said: “We got ahead of it early. “We were able to quarantine the sick and we got it under control.”
However, there are still hiccups. The university requires catering staff working in the cafeteria to check the temperature with hand-held scanners. Anyway, a number of viral infections have developed, and the university was forced to temporarily shut down the dining room over the weekend for deep cleaning.
For free temperature scanning stations, Mr. Green himself has experienced their limitations. He said a person mistakenly prevented him from entering a sports building as soon as he got out of a hot car.