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Solution for school-based Covid-19 screening congestion

Jun 2, 2020
Solution for school-based Covid-19 screening congestion

Port Elizabeth - The announcement by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, that Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners will be able to return to schools, raised concerns about adequate healthcare and the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus.

Mandatory health screening and listing of everyone entering the school premises is required. As a result, huge congestion can therefore be expected with hundreds of learners entering schools.

Few schools have adequate capacity to thoroughly screen and upload the records and status of every learner who enters the school premises. However, engineers at the Faculty of Engineering of the North-West University (NWU) have once again come up with a sustainable solution to do this in a much faster and more reliable manner.

And Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for Community Technologies (CCT) in Port Elizabeth is assisting with the roll-out of this solution.

This is not the first time that the two universities work together on a COVID-19 solution.

Earlier this year NWU developed the Yabelana (meaning to share) system to provide residents with easily accessible information on their mobile phones during South Africa’s lockdown period.

CCT became involved by assisting with the preparation of the training material and multimedia for the app. As part of the collaboration CCT took over the custodianship of the app.

According to Prof Leenta Grobler, project leader and specialist in health-related engineering innovations at NWU, their solution involves the digitalisation of the screening and data-capturing process. A screening and data-recording system called TjopTjop has been developed that involves that every person authorised to enter a particular property is issued with an identification token, and that all points of entry are equipped with a recording station, which, comprises only an Android-based cellphone and a digital thermometer.

A web-portal then provides access to the data of a specific site to the appointed official at the school or business responsible for monitoring Covid-19 screening compliance.

“This system will mean significant time savings for the education and business sectors, and may have a radical impact on lockdown screening protocols. Data capturing at Covid-19 health screening points will be done using QR codes, and government issued identity documents in the case of adults, as identification tokens and commercial off-the-shelf infrared digital thermometers, with the data being gathered by a standard entry-level smart cell phone.”

An Excel-format list will be created for every school, containing every authorised person’s identification number, name and designation (grade and class, teacher, parent or department) and an emergency contact number. This information will be encoded by the NWU's engineering team as a QR code and printed on an ID card, which will be provided to every learner.

Prof Grobler explains that once a learner reaches the screening point, the cell-phone application provides the operator with four submenus:

  • Identification
  • Temperature capturing
  • Mask verification
  • Health risk assessment

Identification uses an image stream to read the QR code printed on the ID card. Temperature capturing utilises image processing of the seven-segment display of the commercial off-the-shelf infrared digital thermometer, and finally, a log is kept of whether a person reporting at the screening point has been issued with a mask or whether they are wearing their own. Health risk assessment finally entail recording the answers to the standardised risk assessment questions provided by the Department of Health” she says.

Once the record has been verified, the identification number, without the name or contact details, is stored in a cloud-based database, along with the temperature data and mask status. In the event of a temperature that is outside the band considered to be within “normal” limits, a warning message will be displayed on the phone and it will be sent to the institution’s health and safety representative. The institution can view this data in real time on a web portal.

Prof Grobler says they completed piloting of the system at several Potchefstroom-based schools and are now partnering with universities and private sector to license the solution and roll-out. “We as engineers strive to change the world for the better, and slowly but surely we are getting there – one innovative idea at a time.”

CCT Director, Prof Darelle van Greunen says “This solution will enable schools, universities and business to adhere to the necessary healthcare requirements for the return of their students and workforce. As Mandela University, we strive to change the world and the opportunity to once again work with NWU, provides not only unique solutions but creates good opportunities to showcase South African innovation.”

The CCT will be responsible for the roll-out in the Eastern, Northern and Western Cape. Interested persons may contact Prof Darelle Van Greunen at Darelle.vanGreunen@mandela.ac.za or 082 5642 356. For all other regions please contact Prof Leenta Grobler contact@tjoptjop.info or 082 878 5894.

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