Tech firms deploy Bluetooth chips for coronavirus contact tracing in office

By Paresh Dave

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Technology companies are developing their own contact tracing systems to help prevent coronavirus outbreaks in their offices as countries begin to ease lockdown measures and a return to the workplace is in the offing.

Silicon Valley company Juniper Networks Inc plans to equip its about 10,000 employees with work identification badge holders that have a Bluetooth chip that will help to record a worker’s movements and interactions in the office, company vice president Jeff Aaron said in an interview.

The system employs Wi-Fi routers and access points from Juniper Network’s unit Mist that will communicate with the Bluetooth chips on the badges. The data collected will help determine which employees need to be tested and isolate after a colleague tests positive for the new coronavirus.

All U.S. states have eased virus lockdowns, but work-from-home remains the norm in California’s tech industry. California has reported more than 86,000 coronavirus cases and 3,500 deaths, the lowest tallies in the United States relative to the state’s large population.

Mist, which is a small but fast-growing Wi-Fi equipment maker, is selling its new system to other businesses through its annual subscription of $150 per access point, and about 25 customers are testing it, Aaron said.

He said businesses that are typically reluctant to spend on replacing older technology have indicated that significant funding is available for contact tracing in the workplace.

“They are saying: If this is a reason for me to rip out my old Wi-Fi and put in a Wi-Fi plus BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) solution and support contact tracing use cases, I can definitely get budget for that,” he said.

Aaron said customers could skip the Bluetooth component in its system, but still see when spaces such as conference rooms become overcrowded by tracking the number of Wi-Fi-connected devices.

Several software companies have announced tools during the pandemic to automate workplace contact tracing and help customers avoid disruptions.

Among others touting workplace tracking tools, Slovakia-based Symbiosy said its own software, along with sensors from technology partner Quuppa, helped identify about 40 people to test after an employee became infected last month.

“Manually, we would not even have been able to get that precision,” said Tomas Melisko, head of real estate company HB Reavis’ Symbiosy unit. “And we would need to have sent twice that many people for testing” if solely analyzing building access logs.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Rare syndrome tied to COVID-19 kills three children in New York, Cuomo says

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Three children in New York have died from a rare inflammatory syndrome believed to be linked to the novel coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday, a development that may augur a pandemic risk for the very young.

Both Cuomo and his counterpart in the neighboring state of New Jersey also spoke on Saturday about the pandemic’s growing toll on mental health, another factor on the minds of governors as they weigh the impact of mounting job losses against health risks in moving to loosen restrictions on daily life.

Nearly all of the 50 U.S. states will have taken steps to relax lockdown measures by this weekend, including states like Arizona and Mississippi, which are reporting increasing infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, highlighting the risk of a new wave of outbreaks.

Cuomo told a daily briefing that he was increasingly worried about a syndrome that shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, which he said included inflammation of the blood vessels and potentially fatal damage to the heart.

He said three children – including a five-year old disclosed on Friday – have died from such symptoms while also testing positive for COVID-19 or related antibodies, suggesting a link that was still not fully understood.

Cuomo, who has emerged as a leading national voice on states’ response to the coronavirus crisis, said state health officials were reviewing 73 similar cases, which have rattled a prior assumption that children were largely not susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

“We are not so sure that is the fact anymore. Toddler, elementary school children are presenting symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock-like syndrome,” Cuomo said. “It’s very possible that this has been going on for several weeks and it hasn’t been diagnosed as related to COVID.”

Cuomo said state health officials had partnered with the New York Genome Center and the Rockefeller University to look at whether there is a genetic basis for the syndrome and have been asked by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop national criteria for identifying and treating cases.

The syndrome shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, which is associated with fever, skin rashes, swelling of the glands, and in severe cases, inflammation of arteries of the heart. Scientists are still trying to determine whether the syndrome is linked with the new coronavirus because not all children with it have tested positive for the virus.

At a separate briefing, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the death of a four-year old disclosed on Friday was not related to the syndrome. “This is a very specific situation with this blessed little kid and we are going to leave it at that.”

‘TOXIC MIX’

New York and New Jersey are at the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, accounting for nearly half of the 77,737 American deaths from COVID-19, according to a Reuters tally, and the two states have among the strictest lockdown rules still in place.

They are also at the center of a devastating economic toll underscored in government data released on Friday showing the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 14.7% last month, up from 3.5% in February and shattering the post-World War Two record of 10.8% set in November 1982.

Cuomo said his state has seen increasing reports of mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence, all tied to the economic stress and isolation of the lockdowns.

On Friday a study released by the Well Being Trust and the American Academy of Family Physicians estimated an additional 75,000 people could lose their lives to suicide, drugs and other contributors to “deaths of despair” stemming from the crisis.

Murphy echoed those concerns.

“The cure for the health crisis is keeping people isolated,” Murphy told his briefing. “You add to that job loss, small businesses that have been crushed. It’s a toxic mix.”

Cuomo said 226 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 on Friday, up from 216 a day earlier, but less than half the levels recorded two weeks ago. He said hospitalizations and intubations continued their downward trend, further evidence the state has gained a measure of control over the virus.

Murphy said an additional 166 residents of his state had died over the past 24 hours from COVID-19, bringing its total fatalities to 9,116, while total cases rose by 1,759 to 137,085.

On a positive note, Murphy said the number of people hospitalized for the disease continued to fall, with the 422 patients discharged over the past 24 hours outpacing the 364 newly admitted for treatment.

Yet Murphy warned against complacency and said his constituents should continue to practice social distancing.

“We are not out of the woods, folks. Let’s not forget that,” he said.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)

Global coronavirus cases pass three million as lockdowns begin to ease

By Cate Cadell

BEIJING (Reuters) – Global confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 3 million on Monday, as the United States neared 1 million cases, according to a Reuters tally.

It comes as many countries are taking steps to ease lockdown measures that have brought the world to a standstill over the past eight weeks. he first 41 cases were confirmed in Wuhan, China, on Jan. 10. The 3 million confirmed infections in less than four months are comparable in number with the roughly 3-5 million cases of severe illness caused by seasonal influenza around the world each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

An average of 82,000 cases have been reported per day in the past week. Over a quarter of all cases are in the United States, and over 43% have been recorded in Europe.

The death toll from the virus stood at more than 205,000 as of Monday, and almost one in seven reported cases of the disease has been fatal.

The true mortality rate is likely to be substantially lower as the tally of infections does not include many mild or asymptomatic and unconfirmed cases.

Some severely affected countries in Europe, including Italy, France and Spain, have recorded a drop in daily case numbers over recent weeks, but still recorded 2,000-5,000 new infections per day in the past week.

Total cases rose 2.5% on Sunday, the lowest daily rate in almost two months, and down from a peak in late March when the total was rising by more than 10% a day.

The United States has reported an average of more than 30,000 new cases a day in the past week, and now represents around a third of all new cases.

TENTATIVE REOPENING

Italy said it will permit some factories to reopen on May 4 as part of a staggered reopening, while Spain relaxed lockdown rules on Sunday, allowing children outside under supervision.

Several U.S. states have reopened businesses amid predictions that the jobless rate could hit 16% for April.

In Asia, which accounts for just under 7% of all cases, some countries are struggling to keep new infections in check. They include Japan and Singapore, which saw cases rise in April despite earlier successful efforts to slow the spread.

Others in the region have managed to rein in outbreaks, including South Korea, which has reported around 10 cases a day in the past week, down from a peak of over 1,000 in February.

In China, where the virus first emerged, officials reported just three new infections for Sunday and said all patients in Wuhan, the original epicentre, had now been discharged.

Case numbers continue to rise faster than the global average in Latin America and Africa. Total cases in Mexico grew 7-10% a day in the past week, reaching 13,800, while cases in Brazil surpassed 60,000 on Sunday.

Over 40% of Africa’s 32,600 cases are in the north, where Morocco, Egypt and Algeria are reporting serious outbreaks.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; editing by Nick Macfie and Kevin Liffey)