JMIR Formative Research

Implementation of a Hardware-Assisted Bluetooth-Based COVID-19 Tracking Device in a High School: Mixed Methods Study

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Background: Contact tracing is a vital public health tool used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. However, traditional interview-format contact tracing (TCT) is labor-intensive and time-consuming and may be unsustainable for large-scale pandemics such as COVID-19. Objective: In this study, we aimed to address the limitations of TCT. The Yale School of Engineering developed a Hardware-Assisted Bluetooth-based Infection Tracking (HABIT) device. Following the successful implementation of HABIT in a university setting, this study sought to evaluate the performance and implementation of HABIT in a high school setting using an embedded mixed methods design. Methods: In this pilot implementation study, we first assessed the performance of HABIT using mock case simulations in which we compared contact tracing data collected from mock case interviews (TCT) versus Bluetooth devices (HABIT). For each method, we compared the number of close contacts identified and identification of unique contacts. We then conducted an embedded mixed methods evaluation of the implementation outcomes of HABIT devices using pre- and postimplementation quantitative surveys and qualitative focus group discussions with users and implementers according to the Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, and Maintenance framework. Results: In total, 17 students and staff completed mock case simulations in which 161 close contact interactions were detected by interview or Bluetooth devices. We detected significant differences in the number of close contacts detected by interview versus Bluetooth devices (P<.001), with most (127/161, 78.9%) contacts being reported by interview only. However, a significant number (26/161, 16.1%; P<.001) of contacts were uniquely identified by Bluetooth devices. The interface, ease of use, coherence, and appropriateness were highly rated by both faculty and students. HABIT provided emotional security to users. However, the prototype design and technical difficulties presented barriers to the uptake and sustained use of HABIT. Conclusions: Implementation of HABIT in a high school was impeded by technical difficulties leading to decreased engagement and adherence. Nonetheless, HABIT identified a significant number of unique contacts not reported by interview, indicating that electronic technologies may augment traditional contact tracing once user preferences are accommodated and technical glitches are overcome. Participants indicated a high degree of acceptance, citing emotional reassurance and a sense of security with the device.