By Janel Nour-Omid
In the aftermath of COVID-19, the threat of contagious infections is being taken very seriously, not only in healthcare environments but in virtually every space where individuals gather closely together.
Leaders in industries relying on public access have already started to reimagine how they will be able to welcome people back safely when the pandemic subsides.
They envision the creation of environments in which the safety of guests is not only an objective to be reached, but a real-time outcome that is continually demonstrated and measured.
The Vitalacy team sees a post-pandemic world in which hand washing, contact tracing and other infection control techniques become everyday features of life. Electronic hand hygiene monitoring and contact tracing technologies can be universally applied to any kind of business serving the public.
Hand hygiene will be convenient and expected
Pre-COVID-19, hospitals and food service were among only a few industries in which a mindfulness about hand hygiene was expected. But neither of these industries had the technology required to measure hand hygiene performance accurately or to encourage improvement among their workers. Due to advances in electronic hand hygiene monitoring technology, hand hygiene performance can now be measured accurately and improved through ongoing reminders and positive reinforcement. The Leapfrog Group is now communicating a strong preference for the use of this technology vs. the direct observation of workers in its 2020 Leapfrog Hospital Survey and Ambulatory Surgery Center Survey.
With the advent of COVID-19, virtually all of us have become mindful of the importance of hand hygiene. The 2020 Healthy Hand Washing Survey by Bradley Corporation, a plumbing manufacturer, found that 90 percent of Americans said they are washing their hands frequently or thoroughly compared to only 37 percent who said they were doing so before COVID-19. Eighty-eight percent of those surveyed said they expect to continue their new hand washing routines after the pandemic ends.
Sanitizer dispensers, once found only in hospitals or bathrooms, will be virtually everywhere – in restaurants, hotel lobbies, workplaces, stadiums and other public places, and in many homes. The electronic soap dispensers market is growing at a rate of 13.5 percent annually, according to Absolute Markets Insights (2020). Bathrooms will gradually be reconfigured to have touchless doors and fixtures, according to an article in the Guardian (Visontay, 2020). The Bradley survey found that 91 percent of respondents considered touchless restroom fixtures to be extremely important (65 percent) or somewhat important (26 percent). Vitalacy entered into a partnership with Glowing.io, which has created a touchless solution that uses a smart phone to check into a hotel, enter your room, operate the remote control, and perform other tasks without touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
Everyone will have the ability to collect personal contact tracing data
Smart phones have built-in Bluetooth technology that can track and keep a log of an individual’s physical proximity to others. Phone apps and other kinds of contact tracing products continue to be developed, including a contact tracing solution recently launched by Vitalacy. Your personal data is kept private on the device until you give permission to release the data, if you test positive, to protect the health of those who were in close proximity to you.
While contact tracing may never be required due to privacy concerns, most of us will consent to this data gathering in the spirit of public health and community service. This consent will enable healthcare workers to identify and test individuals exposed to contagious viruses and better control the spread of disease.
Contact tracing is particularly important in manufacturing facilities and other workplaces, where outbreaks must be prevented to protect public health and prevent economic damage and legal liability to companies. In workplaces, workers must be protected from blame, punishment and any other adverse consequences relating to the gathering or release of their personal contact data, in accordance with accepted safety culture guidelines.
Physical distancing and testing will never completely go away
COVID-19 has rewritten the rules relating to what we consider as “personal space.” While advances in testing and contact tracing will gradually bring us closer together again, some degree of physical distancing will be necessary until a vaccine is developed. Various kinds of tests – such as temperature checks, COVID-19 tests and antibody tests – also will be more widely performed, perhaps with lesser wait times for results. Knowing your status and having the understanding that those around you have been tested will increase our confidence to go out in public.
In the meantime, technology will help us keep a safe distance from others. For example, the days of waiting in line may be over. Many health care facilities are keeping patients out of waiting rooms by having them wait in their cars or in areas where they can keep more space between themselves and others. When the care provider is ready to see the patient, the patient receives a text and can then proceed directly to the examination room.
Similar technology is being developed for use by restaurants, retailers, hotels and other businesses. When your meal, order or room is ready, you will receive a text. Until then, keep your distance.
The health of workers and customers will be highly valued and protected
The pandemic has brought the importance of frontline workers to the forefront. No business can survive without dedicated frontline workers and the customers they serve. Keeping workers and customers safe will remain vitally important to businesses even after the pandemic recedes.
Keeping workers and customers safe will mean monitoring hand hygiene compliance, supplying adequate protective gear, providing health insurance and on-site health checks, and implementing sick leave policies that encourage workers to stay home and seek treatment.
With increasing numbers of baby boomers retiring, competition for workers will remain intense. Keeping employees healthy and safe will be a requirement businesses will not be able to afford to overlook.
Keeping our society safe will mean adhering to five simple concepts: 1) wash your hands, 2) keep your distance, 3) contribute to contact tracing, 4) test and 5) respect others. When a vaccine finally is administered and we achieve herd immunity, staying true to these five concepts will have us better prepared for an outbreak of the next novel virus.
Absolute Market Insights News Release. COVID-19 update: global smart soap dispenser market is expected to growth at a CAGR of 13.5% over the forecast period, owing to surging demand for contactless soap dispensing solution to ensure optimum hygiene. April 20, 2020.
Bradley Corporation News Release. Majority of Americans increase hand washing due to coronavirus. April 15, 2020.
Visontay, E. Sensor taps and no door handles: Covid-19 shows it's time to rethink public toilets. The Guardian, May 3, 2020.