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The School Bus as a Contact Tracing Tool for COVID-19

This content is brought to you by CalAmp.

Can a Telsa alert you if your passenger had COVID-19 yesterday? Because the school bus can. From Los Angeles to Minneapolis, school districts are equipping their buses to become high-tech contact tracing vehicles, part of a tech trend to make the big yellow bus even safer.

Brightbill Transportation Takes on COVID-19 Safety 

With more than 17 years of school bus management experience, Elisa Schubert thought she was familiar with the challenges of safely transporting tens of thousands of students every school day.

From the challenging task of recruiting and retaining responsible drivers to outfitting buses with cameras deployed to keep students safe, Schubert – who is the transportation manager for Pennsylvania-based contractor Brightbill Transportation – is an expert in what it takes to manage a dynamic school bus operation.

But COVID-19 sent Schubert back to school.

She’s become an expert in virus-defeating chemical sprays, as well as the sophisticated equipment used to distribute these chemicals safely.

Schubert has tested and compared masks and face shields to better understand which supports safer bus driving when vision is just as important as respiration. Her drivers are using the clear face shields.

She can recite CDC guidelines chapter and verse and serves on multiple advisory boards to help schools determine how to stagger their start times to facilitate new bus routes that better allow for social distancing.

And she’s leading the charge to help parents understand the value of technology that can keep their students safe on the school bus.

A Long Journey to a Safer School Bus

Elisa L. Schubert, Transportation Manager, Brightbill Transportation

When Schubert began her journey into the school bus industry 17 years ago as a substitute driver, GPS technology was still largely the domain of the military and sophisticated private companies.

Today it’s a common school bus technology leveraged to improve safety and efficiency. And it’s suddenly poised to play an essential role in keeping students and drivers safe in the time of COVID-19 education.

About half of the 500,000 school buses on the road in the United States are outfitted with some sort of GPS technology. And a recent Back to School survey commissioned by CalAmp found that 2 out 3 parents support Contact Tracing to keep students safe.

Schubert’s employer, Brightbill Transportation, has used CalAmp’s school bus safety technology, powered by GPS-enabled technology for years, including the school bus tracking app, Here Comes The Bus, and their student ridership solution.

The Pennsylvania-based private school bus contracting firm has long relied on GPS tech to help them create smarter routes, identify drivers who needed additional coaching and forge stronger communications with parents via the school bus tracking app, Here Comes The Bus.

Little did they know when 2020 began that it would be called on to combat the spread of a global pandemic.

“Our parents have seen the value of knowing exactly when and where their students are as it relates to catching the bus as it can be stressful for parents with younger kids or special needs,” Schubert explained. “And now we’re helping them appreciate how we’re using this technology to fight the spread of COVID-19. We’re looking at all the low tech and high tech we can use to keep the kids safe on their bus rides.”

A solution that was used to track students on and off the bus the same way airlines check passengers into a plane at the gate has been converted into a sophisticated contact tracing solution that hundreds of school districts, including the handful in Eastern Pennsylvania that Schubert’s company serves.

The system, known as Bus Guardian, is as simple as it sounds.

Students check in and off the bus, creating detailed manifests that show which student rode the bus for 37 minutes and which for seven minutes. School administrators use that info to create instant and detailed reports that show the immediate contacts of an ill student.

And similar to airline pilots who might fly five different aircraft over the course of a few days, school bus drivers rotate between vehicles and routes, so the system tracks them, too.

Drivers will be able to perform a wellness check before each route, validating they are not running a fever or have been in contact with anyone infected with COVID-19.

All told, schools have the exact details tying everyone inside a bus should contact tracing be necessary.

“It’s been a powerful tool for us for years, and it’s tremendous peace of mind to know we already have the tech on our buses to make contact tracing so easy, and without any guesswork,” Schubert stated.

And since seat and railing sanitization will now be as essential as properly inflated tires and functioning turn signals, Bus Guardian monitors hygiene efforts so schools can better track their efforts to fight back COVID-19 infections.

More than 90 percent of parents asked in the recent Back to School survey said they want to know if their child has been in contact with an ill student or staff member at school. Bus Guardian gives schools the confidence to perform that task accurately and rapidly as it relates to the school bus.

In the typical school year, about 25 million students rely on the school bus every day, with the typical ride being about 20 minutes long.

While the same survey shows a likely 14 percent reduction in the number of students riding the school bus every day, there will still likely be millions of students every day riding in an enclosed space for an extended period of time throughout the 2020 school year.

Making social distancing, mask wearing, and school bus technology like Bus Guardian essential to the recipe schools use to keep students safe throughout the school day.

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