Quarantine More "Freely"?

Ideas Nov 21, 2020

All of us have probably been through quarantine of some scale. I can simply be precautious or going as far as serious medical treatments. None of which is fun: the need for an isolated space combine with the scarcity of it in large cities makes it hard for the process to not be crammed. In more rural areas, however, the experience can better - there's a more generous giving of space making it less likely for an individual to spread the virus to another, vice versa. Even in places like the US, there are concentrated areas like NYC, California, etc that can prompt high rates of virus transmission. Recent numbers are telling the worse of it (Worldometer gives a great overview with crawled information)

If you are a person who travels a lot, you are more likely stuck in more populated areas. And this involved small spaces (assuming that you are quarantining in that area. Policies can really differ). Small spaces can go with two definitions: your apartment/home which is not necessarily small or a hotel room which can be really stuffed. In either case, the quarantine area has low chances of being concentrated simply because of the lack of space in a metropolis, it is hard to aggregate individuals. That being said, here comes the question: how do you monitor the activity of individuals in quarantine and make sure that they are not coming in contact with others to eliminate transmission possibilities?

What is it like

To answer that question, we can first look at solutions in areas that have the generosity or are willing to sacrifice to provide a dedicated region for quarantine. China, as the source of the outbreak and also the most well-controlled country for the virus at the moment, had a strict quarantine measure in place while cutting short in trade and some other aspects. Personally, I do not know the exact measures in place or how it was actually like during the hardest times, but when I came back for quarantine the situation looked like this.

People are no longer wearing N95 masks (said to be the only masks that completely shield off the virus), some are even going out without masks. And I was put into a hotel dedicated to quarantining. Inside, you go through the process just as if you are at any other hotel register and get yourself a room. Only deliveries and the hotel provided meals are options and going outside one's room is not allowed. There are two or three temperature checks every day to ensure you are not showing symptoms. There's also a camera at the end of the hallway monitoring all of these (P.S. There had been records of people escaping quarantine). One location is a site and sites appear at any scale as quarantine stations. It can be a small hotel or an entire building(usually only for import via air) just for quarantine.

The above solution is how it is done, notice two important things:

  • An isolated space for activity, large or small
  • Control and monitoring

These factors make sure that no quarantine can free and unrestricted, and there isn't much space for altercations of these "requirements" either. Populated areas just really can't meet these requirements that well, if you want both quarantines and working businesses together.


So...

Can you quarantine freely?

Nope

You might say: well, quarantines in the U.S. are quite unrestricted?

And my answer to that is, we are talking about effective quarantine, not "kinda effective" quarantine.

This follows the principle that everything comes at a cost, there is no true win-win, you always gotta lose something.


Now that I've said it is no possibility of having free quarantine in the perspective of an individual, we can think of how free can have other directions. It can be the freedom of placement of individuals in need of quarantine.

Back to what I just said: effective quarantine cannot go alongside everyday business in populated areas.

I did think this is true, that we cannot change the paradigm of effective quarantine(what I mentioned here) by any means.

However, there's a catch.

And I realized this when I had to go to HK(Hong Kong) for some personal business. At the time, Hongkong and Mainland China is not an easy passage just like how it was before: Hongkong is self-governed, so decisions made by the higher-ups don't really go there, they kind of do. Anyways, all you need to know is that passage from Mainland to HK or the other way around requires a 14-day quarantine.

The Band

I was unsure what the HK policy is going to be because HK is a place that fits both a commerce center and a place of concentrated population. If you've ever been there, you see buildings that are really tall, but thin. You can picture what I mean. So, as I crossed the border, they huddled us to meet at a station where this happened:

Everyone who's entering HK is required to download an app (StayHomeSafe), get a band secured to your arm, and pair the band to the phone app. All done under supervision. The band looks like this:

Front Side of Band
Back Side of Band

Upon arriving at my quarantine location, I was supposed to run a test where I walk around all the possible places in the room in a time limit of 30 seconds. That presumably marks my region of activity. And for the rest of the 14 days of quarantine, I had to scan the band from time to time from the mobile app. The app has access to almost every permission in existence: location, storage, Bluetooth, WLAN, etc. Anyone who is using the app has most of their real-time information given away. Which is, near understandable, as a means to monitor an individual's activity during quarantine. I suspected there to be some sort of location sensor inside the band, probably not GPS since it is not energy efficient enough to fit in such a small package. But, it could be a gyroscope of some sort.

Overall, this method brings a new solution to monitoring quarantine activity. We no longer need a whole region-specific quarantine location, instead, real-time tracking can be done by hundreds or thousands of separate terminals that exist within properties of quarantined individuals - in their smartphones. This salvages citizens from the virus while keeping everything up and running in busy metropolises like Hong Kong.


I followed the rules well during quarantine, but it still bugs me that I don't know exactly how the band works and what information it communicates with the phone.

So, after my 14 days of solitary, I started to dig a little deeper.

Here's what I found:

It's much more child's play than how I pictured it.

Digging Deeper

Let's start with a teardown. This device is coated with plastic to make it waterproof. But it's belly seems very soft, and a good place to start with.

Band with Plastic Cut Open

We cut that open, and the first thing we see is a hard sponge-like separator for shielding the electronics inside.

Under it is a button cell for powering this little boy. More specifically a CR1225 3V button cell. Next to the cell, a capacitor(227J); pretty standard a small electronic. Get a better view of these two in the following image.

Close Up View of Cell Holder and Capacitor

We can alread see that some flexible PCB goes all the way through the wraps of the band, taking that out required a bit more effort.

The whole band is an antenna, the left cutout is for the hole punches so that the band can be secure on your wrist. The antenna on both sides is actually a single one connected at the center.

The brain of operation is a TLSR 8351 chip made by Telink Semiconductors (Actually took a while to see exactly what was on the chip, texts are small and hardly legible) There is also a button that normally would be a reset button.

So it's just Bluetooth then? There seems to be nothing else on this double-sided PCB, the band is most likely only a tag to prove your connection with your phone who then checks location by using AGPS.

Welp,

nothing too special. A low-cost IoT product with Bluetooth basically, but it delivers what it is supposed to do: it tracks people with the whole phone combo.


One more thing...

Code Name - Flex_Tape_ADULT_TAG_V2.9_250620

Looking at the left side of the tag a little closer, you see the manufacturer: WiSilica. You search it up, and it's an IoT company. It's quite amazing how IoT plays into our daily lives without us noticing huh?

Just gotta appreciate that for a second

P.S. If you plug in COVID and WiSilica into Google, it spits out some more magical news.

Such as

Blockchain Holdings to Acquire COVID-19 Quarantine Management Product TRACEsafe - WiSilica-Company
VANCOUVER, BC / ACCESSWIRE / March 20, 2020 / Blockchain Holdings Ltd. (“Blockchain”) (BCX.CN), a public company listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the symbol “BCX”, today announced that effective March 13, 2020, it entered into a binding letter of intent (the “Transaction“) to acquire…

etc. etc.


Anyways, I think this is a good place to end it. :)

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