SEC football to utilize devices used by NFL for contact tracing, distancing

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Every football player in the SEC will wear the small, lightweight device also used in the NFL to help with COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, the conference announced Tuesday.

The devices, which are produced by a company called KINEXON, are called SafeTags and are approximately the size of a watch face, according to a news release. They can be worn as a wristband or on a lanyard, or can be built into equipment for use on field in practices and games.

The SafeTags can also be used to help enforce physical distancing regulations by flashing a red warning light when people are within 6 feet of each other.

"Through this new relationship with KINEXON, the SEC is committed to using innovative technology to provide solutions for use by our member institutions as we all work to support a healthy environment for student-athletes," SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a prepared statement. "KINEXON provides the SEC with a modern and effective solution to meet the unique contact tracing challenges associated with football."

According to the release, SafeZone, the technology in SafeTags, uses ultra-wideband technology to calculate the proximity between individuals by distance and length of time in order to perform quick and accurate contact tracing when someone is symptomatic or tests positive for COVID-19. The contact data is logged in a secure system and can be accessed to contact trace in the event of an infection.

"SafeZone was created to meet the unprecedented challenges teams and leagues were facing while identifying solutions to return to play safely," KINEXON executive vice president Jim Garofalo said in a prepared statement. "By adopting our technology, the SEC remains at the forefront of innovation in college athletics. SafeZone will provide student-athletes with a proven modern approach to contact tracing."

According to the release, the SEC chose the SafeZone technology for football because of the large number of players and the complexity of contact tracing unique to the sport. Determining proximity and length of interaction during football games presents an opportunity to use KINEXON's innovative technology because of the number of players on the field and the speed of the game.

Public health experts have recognized contact tracing as one of the most effective strategies to limit the spread of infectious disease. Contact tracing is a key element in the SEC's COVID-19 management plan, among a set of protocols that employ testing, physical distancing and facility sanitization.