NIH advances COVID-19 health status reporting and contact tracing pilot with IBM

The company will be allowed to deploy its Digital Health Pass platform at Washington, D.C.'s water utility to help manage employees during the pandemic.
A close-up of the administration building at National Institutes of Health. (NIH photo)

The National Institutes of Health moved its COVID-19 verifiable health status reporting and contact tracing pilot into a second phase, awardee IBM announced Thursday.

IBM will begin working with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC Water) to deploy its Digital Health Pass to prove to NIH the platform will work with third-party organizations. The platform combines public health data like test results and onsite temperature scans with contract tracing technology and will inform the Maryland water utility’s pandemic decisions to bring employees back.

The pilot’s advancement marks a win for NIH‘s Digital Health Solutions for COVID-19 contract, awarded to seven organizations for a total of $22.8 million — assuming all awardees receive phase two funding.

“Emerging smarter from the COVID-19 pandemic requires adopting technologies to increase
resiliency,” said Andrew Fairbanks, U.S. federal sector leader at IBM, in the announcement. “As testing becomes more widespread and vaccines are distributed, it’s more important than ever to foster innovative thinking and develop solutions such as IBM Digital Health Pass, designed to support organizations in bringing people back to a physical location.”


The National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering awarded the second phase of IBM’s contract, originally won in September, once it demonstrated Digital Health Pass’s feasibility.

NCI and NIBIB are interested in using the platform not just during the ongoing pandemic but for future public health preparedness and pandemic response.

Data collected by Digital Health Pass is anonymized and stored in NIH’s COVID-19 data hub made available to researchers while also allowing participants like WSSC Water to privately monitor employee vaccination and health status.

IBM has until September to continue working with WSSC Water, which serves 1.8 million Montgomery and Prince George’s county residents, at its Laurel, Maryland, headquarters and additional locations.

“Using a cloud-based tool, instead of multiple paper processes, will simplify our self-monitoring, reporting and contact tracing efforts — allowing our employees to spend more time focused on providing safe, seamless and satisfying water services to our customers,” said Carla Reid, general manager and CEO of WSSC Water.


The other organizations to win Phase 1 spots on NIH’s Digital Health Solutions for COVID-19 contract for their digital health solutions were: Evidation Health; iCrypto; physIQ; Shee Atiká Enterprises; the University of California, San Francisco; and Vibrent Health.

Dave Nyczepir

Written by Dave Nyczepir

Dave Nyczepir is a technology reporter for FedScoop. He was previously the news editor for Route Fifty and, before that, the education reporter for The Desert Sun newspaper in Palm Springs, California. He covered the 2012 campaign cycle as the staff writer for Campaigns & Elections magazine and Maryland’s 2012 legislative session as the politics reporter for Capital News Service at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his master’s of journalism.

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