At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fuse Technology Group Inc. recognized it would need a solution for monitoring symptoms of employees, many of whom work on software products for essential companies.

So the Ferndale, Mich.-based software developer made its own, and is rolling out that software to its clients and others plotting strategies for returning to work and figuring out how to best mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

As companies express interest in the product, Fuse looks at the regulations of the state and local governments where the business is located and tailors the software to those needs, said Kevin Gravier, director of programming services at Fuse Technology.

“It’s a very generic solution for small and medium-size businesses that were planning to launch with paper,” said Gravier, adding that it’s intended to offer “peace of mind” to businesses as they reengage their workforces.

Fuse Technology is one of many companies in a rush to create a digital solution as health screenings, in which questions are asked related to symptoms and interactions with sick people, become part of a new normal.

Using software aims to answer questions from employers when it comes to collection of workers’ health data and practical matters like who should be responsible for taking temperatures.

Beyond health screenings, new guidance drafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday would give different organizations specifics about how to reopen while still limiting spread of the virus, including by spacing workers or students 6 feet apart and closing break rooms and cafeterias to limit gatherings. Many of the suggestions already appear on federal websites but haven’t been presented as reopening advice.

Fuse Technology has joined what has become a crowded marketplace of technology suppliers in just a matter of weeks.

Red Level Group, a Novi, Mich.-based IT services and application development company, this month launched COVID ClearPass, an app that requires employees to give health declarations.

Similarly, Quicken Loans Inc., the Detroit-based online mortgage company, has been developing an application for use by its employees. Should a Quicken Loans worker fail the screening questions, then the employee’s badge is turned off, denying them access to facilities.

Meanwhile, Detroit-based workplace application developer Andonix has its core product, called Smart Work Station, in use by manufacturers. The product aims to allow large manufacturers to move their training materials to an app installed on a new worker’s smartphone.

But with manufacturing having mostly ground to a halt in recent months, the company has pivoted toward a new health screening app called Safely. The company is offering the app for free and has interested clients in manufacturing, construction and professional services.

“We see that the pandemic is going to change our social and work habits in the same way that 9/11 changed the travel industry,” said Andonix CEO David Salazar Yanez.

From an employer’s standpoint, daily health screenings account for the first line of defense as the economy slowly reemerges and people head back to work sites.

The Small Business Association of Michigan has identified four so-called pillars around which it is encouraging employers to coalesce. Beyond daily symptom checks and screenings, the group is encouraging that businesses maintain social distancing; a sanitation and disinfecting schedule several times daily; and the use of personal protective equipment.

Each of those items is on the agenda as employees slowly start going back to the Livonia office of Flat Rate Funding Group LLC, a transportation invoicing company.

Because the company works with the trucking industry, it has been deemed essential, and a skeleton crew has been working onsite while most employees work remotely, COO Rob Trube said.

Beginning this week, however, workers will have the option to begin returning to the office, and one of the first things they’ll find is a daily health screening using Andonix’s Safely app. Once employees answer the screening questions, the app generates a QR code that Trube described as akin to a mobile boarding pass used to board an airplane.

Trube said he believed an app would be far more sanitary than using a pen and paper to track health matters.

Ultimately, Trube said that between the health screening and other mitigation steps, it all boils down to a balancing act as employees return to work.

“My challenge has been … how do I make (employees) feel safe and how do I operate the business?” Trube asked, noting that Flat Rate has invested between $1,500 and $2,000 in cleaning supplies and no-touch equipment.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services so far has no specific guidance of its own that it’s offering to employers regarding health screenings, and is instead deferring to the federal CDC guidelines.

The CDC guidance simply refers to health screenings as an “optional strategy” and generally encourages social and physical distancing.

The Marana Group, a Kalamazoo, Mich.-based data and document management firm with an office in South Bend, Ind., has been screening employees since mid-February, company President David Rhoa said.

Despite the months of testing, however, he said he continues to lack a clear sense of just who should be taking temperatures and where that should be done. If an employee shows up and the temperature is deemed excessive, leading to the worker being turned away, were federal privacy laws violated?

“The challenge we have as any small business would, we’re not doctors. Our policy has always been that if you don’t feel well, stay home,” Rhoa said.

“The challenge is that this whole process of screening is not cookie-cutter, and it can’t be. Every business is different and it comes down to the physical location, the number of employees, the shifts they’re trying to run, the nature of the business.”

The data these health checks generate also leads to questions for some, including how is it stored and who has access to it?

Gravier with Fuse Technology said the company’s program simply archives the health data in an encrypted format and provides limited access.

The Kent County Health Department in West Michigan last week announced a new public-private partnership to gather health screening data and use it in furthering efforts to prevent additional spread of the coronavirus, according to a report in MiBiz.

Others see the health screening and gathered data as a competitive advantage as consumers start to venture out more in public and are looking for assurance they’ll be safe.

Leelanau Cellars, a 150-acre vineyard on Northern Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, closed its tasting room in mid-March as mandated by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. But because the vineyard is in the agriculture sector, which was exempted from Whitmer’s shutdowns, Leelanau Cellars’ 25 employees who work in wine production and distribution have remained on the job, said Bob Jacobson, owner of Leelanau Wine Cellars Ltd.

For the past two months, Jacobson has been accumulating paperwork from employees answering a questionnaire about their current health status. Jacobson has purchased a digital service from Movista, a Bentonville, Ark.-based data company that has converted its employee task-management software into a mobile app-based platform for daily health screenings.

“It makes some sense to try to keep records of all of this stuff because who knows where it’s all going?” he said.

Customers may also want to know that a business is screening employees daily and keeping records, Jacobson said.

“We don’t know what our customers are going to become comfortable with,” he said.

Movista, which has an office in Grand Rapids, sells software primarily to retailers for tracking inventory, employee tasks, time and attendance.

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit, the company has developed a new app for health screenings that it’s marketing to retailers, restaurants, universities and government institutions, said Stan Zylowski, CEO and co-founder of the company.

One of the shortcomings in self-screening apps is a thermometer reading has to be manually added by employees.

“It’s a very ‘Scouts honor’ type system,” Zylowski said.

Movista recommends to customers that they use a “leader-led” system where a company representative takes the reading with a touchless thermometer and inputs the data into its system, which guards privacy by identifying individuals by employee number.

“The challenge with self-reporting is obvious, right?” Zylowski said. “If I as an employee want to make the thermometer hot, I clearly can do that. And if I want someone else to use the thermometer so I can get to go to work, I certainly can do that, too.”

Crain’s Senior Editor Chad Livengood and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article was originally published in Crain’s Detroit Business.

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