Fleet data offers contact tracing tool for Covid-19

TORONTO, Ont. – The spread of Covid-19 is a contact sport.

A truck driver could be exposed to respiratory droplets when someone nearby coughs or sneezes, through personal contact like a simple handshake, or by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

If news of a potential Covid-19 case emerges, Hensall District Cooperative wants to be able to track down everyone who may have been exposed to the virus – using a process known as contact tracing.

Contact tracing involves tracking down anyone who may have been exposed to someone diagnosed with Covid-19, or demonstrating symptoms of the virus. (Photo: iStock)

“Everyone has to communicate so we don’t miss a step,” says driver and vehicle safety manager Jed Haines, referring to procedures and digital tools that have been adopted by the fleet. “We believe there is only so much the local health authorities and so on can do because everyone forgets a little portion of their day.”

“Testing and contact tracing are going to be critical to fending off a second wave,” added Fleetmetrica CEO Ward Warkentin, as the pair participated in a webinar on the topic.

While public health officials explore the use of smartphone apps that can track personal movements for the purpose of contact tracing, truck fleets already have access to the digital “breadcrumbs” that make this possible, Warkentin said.

“Trucking is in an excellent position to use your onboard recorders, or ELDs, or telematics.”

But rather than starting the process after someone tests positive for the virus, a fleet can adopt the early contact tracing that begins as soon as an employee reports potential symptoms.

With the data in hand, that involves identifying everyone who came in contact with a symptomatic person, looking back as far as two days before the symptoms began to emerge, Warkentin explained.

“Healthcare professionals are not going to do this because it’s not their mandate,” he added. “This is a much further precaution or measure a company could take.”

While many people could dismiss symptoms as nothing more than a common cold, the warnings generated through early contact tracing could be enough to convince them to be tested, Warkentin said. “It decreases the transmission within the fleet, and it also lowers the chance of spreading it outside of your fleet.”

He recommends developing a related fleet policy that defines what to do when a driver begins to show symptoms, and assigning a central person who will be informed about infected drivers, conduct contact tracing, and provide warnings or follow-up actions. Other questions to be considered is whether drivers will be reimbursed if they are told to stay away from work, he said.

The identity of those infected with the virus is also protected.

“This is data that’s already collected. There’s not any personal information about the driver and their illness,” Warkentin stressed, referring to the tool that Fleetmetrica uses to gather the necessary information. “There isn’t really a privacy issue here.”

“You can make it available to the hands of a driver through a driver app.”

Privacy concerns have been raised about personal contact tracing apps that use Bluetooth signals to tell if the user has been exposed to someone who has Covid-19.

“If done properly, tracing applications can achieve both privacy and public health goals at the same time,” said Daniel Therrien, privacy commissioner of Canada. “Everything hinges on design, and appropriate design depends on respect for certain key privacy principles.”

Apps used for public health purposes need to be voluntary, and include meaningful consent for specific health purposes, the nation’s privacy watchdogs stressed in a recent statement. The measures have to be based on science, and used for a specific purpose as well.

Alberta is the first provincial public health authority to launch such an app, in the form of ABTraceTogether. It stores encrypted personal data for 21 days, and uses Bluetooth signals to identify any other nearby phones that are using the app. But the province says public health officials will require consent before sharing such information with contact tracers.

Haines said the ability to trace a potential spread of the disease would be vital in the workplace.

“If we ever were to have employees or customers that are infected with Covid-19, the spread could be very severe to our operations because we have not only the drivers and our office staff, we have production staff,” he said, noting that the company is heavily involved in the food supply chain.

The contact tracing procedures have also been added to pre-existing policies for reporting illnesses, and are backed by other preventive measures such as distributing hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment. The fleet’s central contact for any identified cases is the health and safety managers, who knows where to steer employees for self assessments.

“Currently we have not had to use it,” Haines said. “But we have taken tests.”

The tools are in place if they’re needed.

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media’s trucking and supply chain publications — including Today’s Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Canadian Shipper, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.