Baylor Line Bluetooth bracelets updated for Halloween game, new CDC guidelines

The Baylor Line runs during Baylor's game against TCU on Halloween. Photo by Russell Luna (Content Team) | Courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

Making their debut appearance at the first home game against Kansas in September, the Bluetooth bracelets worn by the Baylor Line continue to be used for COVID-19 contact tracing. New updates were put into play during the Halloween game against TCU.

In the three weeks between the two games, Director of Student Activities Dr. Matt Burchett said the rapidly developing technology had to be sent back to AlertTrace for software updates. Adjustments were also made for new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“The devices, by and large, worked better than the first round did, and we are trying to figure out ways in which we could potentially utilize the technology,” Burchett said. “The aspiration with technology is how do we create an environment where we can be more open and students get to have more experiences while creating the safest environment possible for them to participate in?”

When the Bluetooth bracelets were first used, the CDC guidelines had the bracelets set up to beep if students were in close proximity to one another for more than 15 consecutive minutes. Burchett said this was changed for the Halloween game because the CDC had made it clear they needed to instead be tracking cumulative minutes of contact.

“[We] probably underestimated just how active our students are during the game,” Burchett said. “They are hanging out with different groups of friends, they are moving, they are getting drinks of water, so they are staying pretty mobile. What was happening was students were interacting with people for more than 15 minutes, but the data was not capturing that.”

In addition to changing the way contact was traced, seating arrangements for the Halloween game changed to grouping students in sets of 10 instead of in smaller clusters of two, four, six and eight. Burchett said seating arrangements at the first game were not successful in keeping students separated and the latter arrangement was much more effective.

Winston-Salem, N.C., freshman MaryLynn Flowers ran the line at the Halloween game for her first time and said she didn’t mind wearing the Bluetooth bracelet.

“I appreciated it because I feel like Baylor is taking the necessary precautions to keep us safe while still letting us do something that is super monumental to freshmen and Baylor in general,” Flowers said.

Flowers said she was nervous the bracelets would increase her chances of having to quarantine after the game like she had to at the start of the year, but she was never contact traced. She said she thinks this is because the staff was very strict about wearing masks and maintaining distancing while queuing up for the line.

While Burchett said the first game had three positive COVID-19 cases resulting in contact tracing, the Halloween game had none. He said the data is only accessed in the event of contact tracing, and no personal student information is disclosed to AlertTrace at any time.

While the bracelets were supposed to beep if students came in contact with other students for 15 cumulative minutes, Flowers said she did not hear any beeps through the game. However, she is thankful for Baylor’s ability to keep students safe and thinks there must not have been any beeps because protocol was being followed.

Burchett said the Bluetooth bracelets are an advanced and unique technology that is set up by an AlertTrace engineer who comes from Dallas every home game to set the system up. It works by using the bracelets and hubs placed around the stadium to communicate programmed rules that track data, so it can be referenced in case of an outbreak.

Other measures Student Activities has taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include screen testing before and after each game, approved seating arrangements and revoked eligibility for students who are in quarantine or isolation to claim a ticket to the game.

“Right now, we are exploring whether it’s a feasible option to deploy the devices to students at basketball games,” Burchett said.

In planning for the future of Student Activities, Burchett said they are proposing seating manifests and action plans to work towards allowing student and fan attendance at other sporting events. He thinks the Bluetooth bracelets have been a successful measure in Baylor’s attempt to handle COVID-19.

“Much like anything else with COVID, so much of this is preventative,” Burchett said. “It’s not necessarily that one single thing we do leads to the mitigation of cases as it is what can we do to position ourselves to be the safest environment possible. This creates that environment for us.”

Flowers said she agrees Baylor is doing a great job of keeping students safe, and the Bluetooth bracelets have been a part of that effort. She said the low number of cases following the games is a testament to Baylor’s success.

“From my experience, contact tracing is kind of a mess. I have so much grace for these people because it’s hard to contact that many people all at once, and I think the bracelets are only beneficial,” Flowers said. “It’s not ideal to have to wear them, but in the situation we are in now, I’d rather wear a Bluetooth bracelet and be able to run than not run at all.”