Skip to Main Content

Testing a Digital Device for Contact Tracing in Schools

Yale Public Health Magazine, Yale Public Health: Fall 2023
by Matt Kristoffersen


When Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science developed a new digital contact tracing tool, Yale School of Public Health tested the innovation.

In a proof-of-concept study, a team of researchers led by YSPH doctoral student Dan Li and Dr. Tyler Shelby, MD/PHD ’23, (epidemiology of microbial diseases) piloted the contact tracing device in a high school after observing promising results in a university setting. Their prototype uses a Bluetooth-enabled dongle, paired with a smartphone app, to record potential exposures with other students, saving the time and labor that is needed for traditional interview-based tracing strategies.

Small changes to the device could improve its performance and convince students to wear it regularly.

After simulating a COVID-19 outbreak in the school, the researchers assessed how well the device could track the spread of the mock infection. They found that the device discovered a significant number of contacts that interview-based tracing missed.

“During a respiratory viral pandemic, Bluetooth digital contact tracing can play a critical role in keeping school members safe,” the authors said.

They found that their digital tracing strategy, along with its user privacy protections, could also help the students feel safer: Focus groups revealed that the device gave them a greater sense of security. The students also reported being eager to participate – a good sign among teenagers, whose adherence rate to interventions generally lags behind adults.

Their study among teenagers highlighted some challenges with their device, however. Technical difficulties and waning adherence rates kept their insights limited. And even though their device spotted many unique contacts, it did not track more cases than the interview-based method. In fact, only 5% of cases were identified by both methods.

The researchers suggested that small changes to the device could improve its performance and help convince students to wear it regularly.

“The prototype design and technical difficulties during syncing can be improved to increase usability and adherence,” the authors explained. “Further studies addressing these factors are needed.”

Previous Article
Misleading Marketing of Infant Formula Criticized
Next Article
Grant Supports Development of Novel Test for Malaria