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Can Wearable Tech help kids go back to school?

The debate over schools reopening rages on throughout the heat of the summer as governments seek to balance the need for children to return to classrooms (with no small consideration given to the attendant childcare benefit) and the associated risks involved in contracting COVID-19 by gathering people in numbers indoors. Many insist that since children are proportionally less impacted by the effects of the coronavirus, it is considerably safer to allow them to return for much needed in-class instruction. Meanwhile others, understandably, point out that “less impacted” doesn’t mean “aren’t impacted” and that children can be carriers of viruses back into homes--not to mention that there are teachers, administration, janitorial and other vulnerable adult staff involved in a functioning school system. The prudent move seems to be to delay the opening of the school year until there is a considerable reduction in community transmission of the disease, as well as a proven and robust tracking and tracing system in place to monitor any outbreaks, but there is a sense in some communities that schools will open regardless, so the question becomes how best to mitigate the risks involved in doing so. Perhaps wearable technology can be a key component in a comprehensive program to reduce the possibility of a recurrence driven by in-classroom gathering.

Although it is obvious that wearable tech features benefits unavailable to other devices--chief among them the ability to measure and record vital health signs in real-time and create a dataset that can be easily studied and monitored by medical professionals—the near-ubiquity required to provide an accurate and timely response is difficult to achieve in a culture unforgiving towards ‘forcing’ people to wear a device they may not want to. This problem is thankfully sidestepped in a cohort of schoolchildren, however, and thus the ability to monitor kids’ vital signs becomes possible and in turn, should give researchers a better chance at detecting the spread of the virus and intervening before there is a serious epidemic. Wearable tech can be used to decipher children’s whereabouts as well, and within a contained environment like a school, tracking and tracing should prove easier than in the community at large. Furthermore, if parents could be convinced to have their kids wear the devices away from school, additional data would be available in the community as well, which would mean even more accurate tracing and a more robust dataset.

No technology is going to substitute for common sense, obviously, and the safest course of action is to remain vigilant by maintaining distancing and taking the necessary precautions like wearing masks and frequent hand washing, but if the early reopening of schools becomes inevitable, wearable technology could at least give the medical system a fighting chance at preventing a school system-fuelled epidemic.

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