AWS Public Sector Blog

Getting students back to the classroom and student athletes back on the field

two students walking away from camera through a campus common area

To support students and universities in a safe return to live campus instruction, the Center of Disease Control (CDC) issued Interim Guidance for COVID-19 Testing and Screening at Institutions of Higher Education. This guidance provides strategies that include protocols for diagnostic testing of individuals with current symptoms of COVID-19 and for those that feel they may have been exposed to COVID-19. In addition, they recommend regular screening tests of asymptomatic individuals to prevent further transmission of the disease.

A major challenge facing universities looking to implement a campus-wide COVID-19 testing program is a lack of technology that allows a single reporting engine to see test results from both antigen rapid tests, a lower cost option used for testing with results posted at the point of care, and RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) tests. These are typically sent out to a certified lab for processing and patient results are returned through their portal. These challenges limit school officials’ ability to report on and segment by key campus groups. While schools are also challenged by complying with state health department mandates for timely reporting of results from point of care tests as most providers do not have a system that can be integrated into the state database. Cloud technology can help address these challenges, removing digital silos while maintaining data privacy.

CSU Pueblo expands testing to get students back to in person learning

To address these challenges, NTT DATA, an AWS Premier Consulting Partner, developed the Smart Back to School (SB2S) application. SB2S is a HIPAA-compliant responsive web application built natively on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Recognizing the need for expanded COVID-19 testing and contact tracing as an essential component to bringing students back to campus, Colorado State University Pueblo (CSUP) worked with Spartan Medical to administer a robust testing and contact tracing program for the university. Using NTT DATA’s SB2S application to administer the program, Spartan provided an end-to-end solution including the procurement of 15-minute Antigen Rapid tests that do not require external equipment for processing and a certified laboratory for the processing of RT-PCR tests along with a team of healthcare professionals to administer the tests on campus.

Prior to return to campus in January, school officials asked each student and staff member to schedule an appointment for an initial diagnostic RT-PCR test in the SB2S portal. During the booking process, the application collects both demographic information as required by the CDC for COVID-19 testing along with additional campus demographic data such as if the student lives in a residence hall or plays on a university athletic team. They used this data for advanced reporting of results on campus.

As the SB2S application records a newly scheduled appointment, a secure connection transfers the order to the laboratory information management system (LIMS) of a certified partner laboratory.

As part of campus safety protocols, each week that a student or staff member is on campus, they are required to schedule an antigen rapid COVID-19 test through the SB2S application for continued campus monitoring of asymptomatic cases. Any student testing positive is then brought back for a second RT-PCR diagnostic test. Results from both test types are sent to the SB2S application via secure connection, allowing campus safety teams to view the data; campus teams can also view daily health assessments in a single reporting dashboard.

The application also facilitates a required daily self-assessment of health. It presents students and staff with a green, yellow, or red QR code that either grants them access at checkpoints across the campus or provides additional COVID-19 guidance if they report being symptomatic or had potential exposure to COVID-19.

Campus safety teams receive results for both the tests and daily self-assessments; reports can be segmented across various campus demographic groups allowing the campus safety officer responsible for those student groups to easily manage groups for whom they are responsible. As test results post to the application, workflow emails are sent to the student letting them know results are ready. In the case of a positive result, an alert is sent to the campus COVID-19 team allowing them to take immediate action and begin contact tracing activities.

With this deep functionality that encourages participation across campus, SB2S was an instrumental tool in safely bringing students back for in-person learning at CSUP. Within six weeks of implementing the program, the campus positivity rate was cut to less than 1%.

A solution built natively on AWS

The application frontend, which makes up the user interface, is written in the quick to develop framework of Ember.js. The backend, written in Python, ties into a secured Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) database. For advanced reporting, NTT DATA deployed Amazon QuickSight to segment data by key demographic groups. This allows campus leaders such as athletic trainers and heads of campus housing to track trends within student and faculty populations for whose safety they are responsible.

To support the management of HIPAA compliance across the platform, NTT DATA implemented Oxygen™ from AWS Advanced Consulting Partner Cloudticity.

NTT DATA enabled detailed metrics for AWS services including Amazon RDS, load balancers, and Amazon CloudFront so that alarms and dashboards can be configured. Importantly, the application raises alerts when service level objectives (SLOs) are at risk so that issues can be addressed in a timely manner.

Both frontend and backend logs print operational information with standardization to allow for quicker debugging and understanding of the health of the application. Leveraging the Python logging client, useful debugging information is being logged and included logging all errors from the API. Logs are retained in a central location, so they are available in the case of an application failure.

The solution operates in a multi-tenant environment following a pooled model. This allows universities and companies to implement the solution quickly and affordably. For those requiring tenant isolation, a single tenant environment, the solution also functions in a single tenant environment for full-stack isolation.

According to a recent study conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), less than half of all US students are back in the classroom full time a full year after the start of the pandemic. As schools look to safely bring students back onsite the fall, with cloud technology, schools can manage their large populations through robust reporting of test results with meaningful statistics around clusters of students who live, learn and play together while meeting state reporting guidelines for point of care testing. Learn more about the cloud for higher education and NTT DATA SB2S on the AWS Marketplace.

Subscribe to the AWS Public Sector Blog newsletter to get the latest in AWS tools, solutions, and innovations from the public sector delivered to your inbox, or contact us.

Noel Hara

Noel Hara

Noel Hara is chief technology officer (CTO) for NTT DATA’s public sector division, providing thought leadership to government leaders as they drive modernization, transformation, innovation, and cybersecurity to the agencies and constituents whom they serve. He is an experienced strategist that infuses technology solutions across the public sector to help solve the most challenging problems. Since the start of the global pandemic, Noel has been responsible for adapting the company's offering portfolio to support clients in their shift to remote working and learning while continuing to support constituents through the expansion of digital government.

Irshad Buchh

Irshad Buchh

Irshad Buchh is a global consulting partner solutions advisor at Amazon Web Services (AWS). He is focused on helping consulting partners within AWS build their cloud strategy and help them with broad use of AWS. Irshad interacts with CIOs, CTOs, and their architects and helps them and their end customers implement their cloud vision.