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Ways IoT technology can help build a new normal for COVID-19

IoT sensors and networks can help organizations create safer buildings and keep employees healthy. Learn the use cases for healthcare, testing, HVAC and device management.

The ongoing pandemic has strained the economy, public services and global healthcare systems. It has also tested us in every way imaginable with lockdowns and working from home.

IoT technology brings new opportunities and can help us establish a new normal with use cases and innovation for healthcare, COVID-19 testing, building health and remote device maintenance.   

But we must use IoT to go even further. Technology companies have a responsibility to implement knowledge to develop and install the hardware, devices and software that can keep employees healthy and the physical office safe once again.

Streamline COVID-19 data collection

In healthcare, IoT has helped lessen COVID-19's effects. IoT sensors allow COVID-19 patients to quarantine at home. Patients who wear connected devices enable doctors to monitor their progress without risking others' safety.

IoT provides much-needed data for epidemiologists. Researchers use IoT to track variant progress through connected thermometers. Kinsa, an American company that sells connected smart thermometers, explains that its gathered data helps track COVID-19 rates in the U.S.

Vaccines distribution and supply tracking would be a near-impossible task without IoT. The different vaccines also have different storage needs, which requires resilient, reliable and proactive monitoring throughout the supply chain.

Some vaccines must be stored at ultra-low temperatures, between -130 and -70 degrees Fahrenheit. Other vaccines can be transported at higher temperatures, but still must be monitored during their transit and storage. Icelandic startup Controlant uses sensors to monitor temperature-sensitive medicines and vaccines worldwide.

Instant testing with connected options

In 2022, there are at-home tests for COVID-19 at pharmacies and through mail order. But what if the tests could be even cheaper, faster, readily available -- and IoT connected so researchers could instantly understand transmission rates? 

An inexpensive device called miSHERLOCK tests gathered saliva during the COVID-19 test. The device's design requires require fewer resources. It can be built with a 3D printer and uses a smartphone to process test results.

The inexpensive device's necessary files and circuit designs are publicly available online. If this or a similar device is mass-produced -- and has an internet connection -- organizations could instantly test employees before they enter the workplace.

Sensors keep offices cleaner and safer

With IoT, the office environment would change. It would be increasingly contactless. Instead of physical door handles, touchpoints would instead require sensors to automatically open and close. Sensors would know when the conference rooms reach crowd capacity.

Based on gathered data, the cleaning staff would receive alerts to address high-traffic areas. Bathrooms would be cleaned at a higher rate if the sensors detect a larger-than-normal population in the workplace that day. Meanwhile, areas that receive no traffic -- such as a conference room that wasn't used that day -- could be left as-is.

HVAC systems could link to IoT to ensure reduced germ spread. Even before the onset of COVID-19, workplace HVAC systems spewed concentrations of some pollutants in numbers that we often two to five times higher than typically experienced outdoors, according to the EPA.

With machine learning, these systems can reduce the ongoing sick building syndrome problem -- a widespread difficulty for office workers. Typically, employees come down with colds and illnesses that aren't easily explainable unless one considers the often-ignored air filtration system.

IoT helps build monitoring systems

But with all these sensors and IoT systems, it's possible for the building to have a new problem: a dense underbrush of IoT silos. These systems can be integrated to include the HVAC, security, lighting, fire and safety systems.

Building owners then use a single platform to gain oversight into the environment they provide to tenants. Without the need to rip and replace the legacy technologies, organizations can connect CCTV, fire alarms, lighting and heating systems.

Remote and hybrid work also means companies track and maintain devices across the country and around the globe. With device lifecycle management, businesses can manage mobile phones, tablets and laptops from one location. A single self-serve platform gives companies complete visibility over their device landscape and IT teams can use the time to support strategic business initiatives.

There are also building use cases outside the office. Smart factories -- laden with industrial IoT sensors -- can allow many employees to work remotely. Sensor connectivity is achieved with a mobile private network (MPN) that is purpose-built for a specific location. MPNs don't share connectivity with others, so owners gain capacity and processing capability -- especially when combined with edge computing and 5G.

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