Published on September 2nd, 2020 📆 | 6105 Views ⚑0
Alabama State University using camera technology to help mitigate COVID-19
Alabama State University is harnessing cutting edge technology to mitigate COVID-19, setting up stations that use cameras to detect changes in temperature and vital signs to alert students, faculty, and staff to possible signs of infection.
ASU officials announced the plans at a news conference today and demonstrated the first station, set up in the John Garrick Hardy Student Center. The university, which resumed on-campus classes about two weeks ago, will buy five of the stations and place them in high-traffic areas on campus, ASU President Quinton Ross said.
The user stands at a designated spot a few feet in front of the camera. The results pop up within a few seconds on two side-by-side screens. The user receives either an all-clear or a message to visit the ASU Health Center.
The readings are anonymous, the university said. The stations will provide ASU with data on the number of people screened, the number with elevated temperatures and vital signs and the time it took for each screening.
ASU is the first university in the nation to use the Smart Thermal Temperature and Smart Vital Signs Screening stations, developed by Draganfly, the university said.
In addition, ASU is buying five social distancing awareness units, also made by Dragenfly, which use cameras to calculate whether people are staying six feet apart and display that information with images on a screen. The first unit was in operation in the student center today.
Ross said the technology will be another layer in ASU’s safeguards to control the spread of COVID-19, a plan that includes a campus-wide mask policy, employee check-ins, a testing center set up in Lockhart Hall, where COVID-19 test results can be obtained within 20 minutes, and other measures.
“It really complements all the protocol we put in place for our reopening here at Alabama State,” Ross said.
About 1,800 of the university’s roughly 4,000 students are back for on-campus classes, which resumed two weeks ago. Ross said there were no known cases of COVID-19 on campus as of Tuesday.
He said the university required students, faculty and staff to be tested before returning and adherence to CDC guidelines before coming back if they tested positive.
“We’ve tried to create as best as we can this bubble on campus,” Ross said. “Of course we know we have students leaving and coming because we’re a public institution. But for the most part, students have remained vigilant in terms of their masks and in terms of following their protocols on campus.
“Like I said, every day is a different day. No day is the same, but thus far, we’ve been fortunate.”
Ross, a former state senator and a former high school principal in Montgomery, said he’s encouraged by the way the students have embraced the preventive measures.
“I feel like an old high school principal making sure they keep their masks up,” he said. “It becomes a culture shift. It becomes habit. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I ride around campus. We started out, ’Hey, pull your mask up. Mask doesn’t work on your chin. Keep it over your nose.’ But it’s becoming routine. And to have the students, faculty, staff and student body buy into it, it makes all the difference in the world.”
Alabama Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, worked with Ross on the screening stations project.
“This is not the cure-all without a vaccine,” Singleton said. “But however it is a tool in the toolbox, along with social distancing, along with good hygiene practice and along with the practice and rules and regulations being adhered to by the student body and by the administration and making sure that our children are being safe.”
Singleton said he would like to see the screening stations used in K-12 public schools to help allow the return of more classroom instruction, especially in areas like his district that have limited access to the virtual classes. Former state Sen. Gerald Dial of Lineville, who spoke at the news conference, also said K-12 schools could be using the technology to allow more in-person classes.
John Bagocius, senior vice president of global sales at Dragenfly, summarized how the cameras detect the elevated temperatures and vital signs.
“Temperature is measured from the infrared energy radiating from the subjects,” Bagocius said in an email. “We use advanced image processing to find the tear duct, which is the closest part of the face to a large artery.
“For heart rate – as the heart beats, pulses of blood flow through the veins of the face. Our system can see both the very subtle changes in skin tone and the small movements that the varying blood volume causes. Breathing is measured via the rhythmic expansion movement of the neck, shoulders and chest.”
Singleton took a COVID-19 test at Lockhart Gym, the satellite testing center set up by the ASU Health Center. It was a test that involved 15-second swabs in each nostril, Singleton said. He received his negative result about 15 minutes later.