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Navy considers tracking devices for personnel social distancing amid COVID-19 pandemic

U.S. Navy Master Chief Michael Mashburn, command master chief of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), right, gives blood to U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Gilbert Guterrez, from Dededo, Guam, assigned to Operational Health Support Unit San Diego, Detachment K, to test for COVID-19 antibodies June 19, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Robyn B. Melvin)
July 24, 2020

The U.S. Navy is considering equipping personnel with wearable proximity tracking devices to ensure employees are maintaining appropriate distance and to determine if the government’s social distancing policies are effective.

A request for information recently revealed that the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Naval COVID Rapid Response Team is investigating “draft requirements, market research, potential sources, and best practice information for commercially available or advanced prototype technologies” to be used for a proximity tracking program.

The program would reportedly include at least two components: sets of wearable tracking devices and a storage and processing device. The wearable would estimate the distance between itself and other wearables.

“The proximity records will primarily be used to identify those individuals that were too close for too long to a person that has tested positive for COVID-19. Secondarily, this data will be used to determine if social distancing policies put in place by the government employers are effective,” the request stated.

The wearables would record the “unique identifier” of the wearer’s device and the device that is in close proximity, in addition to estimating the distance, date and time of the measurement. However, the Navy does not want the device to store any personally identifiable or personal health information about the wearer. Also, it should not store any location or GPS data.

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According to the request, the devices are only intended to be worn while at work. Multiple times a day, proximity records collected by the devices would be transferred into storage where the data can be viewed and analyzed.

The request also included a long list of operational requirements, including the ability to store proximity records for all devices that are within 6 feet, but not more than 10 feet away, it must be able to identify up to 100 devices within one minute and must have a battery life of at least five days. There must be two ways to wear the device, such as a lanyard or clip-on, and it should not exceed three square inches, or roughly the “size of a large men’s watch.”

The request comes after the U.S. military struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19 on its fleets and bases. Earlier this year, Navy officials confirmed that 10% of the 4,865-person crew on board the aircraft carrier USS. Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for the virus, Defense One reported. Two U.S. warships, the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Ticonderoga-class cruiser San Jacinto, even broke records for their time at sea after being ordered to keep moving and avoid all ports to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.