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A wearable tech defense vs COVID-19 in world juniors bubble

By AP | Dec 30, 2020

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — What looks like a thin pack of gum is attached to Braden Schneider’s event credential at the world junior hockey championship.

It’s a beacon providing both contact tracing capability should the Canadian defenseman test positive for COVID-19 and a warning if he stands too close to someone else for too long.

“It’s a mandatory thing to make sure we’re all safe in these times,” Schneider said. “If that’s one of the things we have to do, we’re very privileged and lucky to even get the chance to come here and play.”

TraceSafe’s wearable technology is Hockey Canada’s extra layer of defense against the spread of the virus at the 12-day, 10-nation tournament, in addition to the same cellphone app the NHL used in its Edmonton and Toronto playoff bubbles earlier this year.

That app, which includes facial recognition technology, is a self-assessment tool that provides a code for a temperature check.

The Bluetooth beacon on Schneider’s credential features a small red light that flashes if he’s less than 2 meters (6.6 feet) from another person, or if he’s in someone else’s presence for more than 15 minutes. Data is uploaded via an encrypted network to be used for contact tracing in the event of a positive test.

“What we wanted to do is be able to trace where people were relative to others and we wanted to be able to set a quarantine period where no one was allowed to leave,” Dean McIntosh, Hockey Canada’s vice president of events, told the Canadian Press. “The app didn’t do that for us and neither did the daily testing, so there was a need to find something different and new.”

The technology works in concert with other measures, including daily testing. Hockey Canada hired the same private Edmonton lab the NHL did to process tests.

Wearing masks is mandatory. They are removed when players and personnel are about to step on the ice, McIntosh said.

The trickiest part of managing the virus was when teams arrived in Edmonton on Dec. 13.

Everyone wore a wristband resembling a hospital bracelet while quarantined in their hotel rooms for five days. A device in their rooms and the wristbands created a geofence, so if a player left his room, the signal would break and indicate a breach of quarantine.

Those deemed free of the virus after quarantine discarded the wristbands and donned credentials with the beacons to enter the world junior bubble.

Nine German players continued wearing wristbands and isolating in their hotel rooms several more days because of positive tests during quarantine. One player will continue to do so until Jan. 4.

Who sees the data? An International Ice Hockey Federation official and a representative of the organizing committee can access it in real time. Any positive test is reported to Alberta Health Services for contact tracing to begin.

“We have not had a case since individuals came out of quarantine, so we haven’t had to utilize the TraceSafe technology to identify close contacts in a positive case in the bubble,” McIntosh said.

The credential beacon doesn’t create a geofence barrier. More traditional measures ensure no one leaves the hotel or arena, including security.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of trust, but there does come a point in the event where teams will be eliminated and maybe here for 24 hours before they leave, so we’re really trying to ensure the temptation of leaving the bubble isn’t there,” McIntosh said.