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Staff file photo / Chattanooga Christian School, located at 3354 Charger Drive, was photographed on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Imagine a student or a teacher in Chattanooga getting ready for school each morning this fall — as they're getting ready, they pull out a smartphone or log on to their laptop and answer a few quick questions in a web-based application about their health that day.

"Are you having any symptoms related to COVID-19 or been around someone recently who has the coronavirus?" they're asked.

If no, the application sends them on their way to school. If yes, the app walks them through up-to-date public health guidance and directs them to a doctor or local testing facility. Most importantly, it also flags the student or employee and tells them not to go to school that day.

This morning routine is what President Chad Dirkse envisions for all students and employees of Chattanooga Christian School as it reopens its campus amid the coronavirus pandemic this fall.

This likely scenario is all thanks to the school's new partnership with the Chattanooga-based health care analytics company Base Camp Health and its new app, Ascend.

Leigh McCormack, CEO of Base Camp Health and a data scientist, calls the app "a simple digital tool."

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Staff file photo / Chattanooga Christian School, located at 3354 Charger Drive, was photographed on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"You can access it via computer, via smartphone, it takes less than a minute and assesses if you're sick, if you're a carrier, if you've been exposed to the coronavirus, and then it provides you with the communication on what to do that day, do you have enough risks that you shouldn't be on site [at school or work]," McCormack explained. "It's just a tool that guides them and communicates what your employees wants communicated as the next step."

McCormack and Rebekah Sharpe, the company's chief operating officer, hope the app will assist employers, health systems, schools — such as Chattanooga Christian School — and other organizations as the economy begins to reopen across the state. It allows organizations to manage and monitor the return of employees, students, and volunteers by streamlining individual assessments, communication work-flows, contact tracing and population reporting while also keeping track of the latest public health guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as local health departments.

Dirkse knew one of the keys to reopening campus for more than 1,000 students from pre-K through 12th grade was to be able to have a plan in place for when a person does start showing symptoms of the virus.

"Aside from a really significant treatment or a vaccine, the tools we have to protect ourselves from [the virus are] the basic protocols we have in place, which is social distancing, being able to isolate clusters and having that information quickly," he said. "So how do we have a new environment where ... if a student starts showing systems, they know to get tested right away? How do we inform our families if there is a case without violating HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] protections? The guidance changes all the time, and I get it, this is brand new, but that's the hardest thing we have to deal with and now we have another partner through Base Camp Health who is up-to-date on all that information."

Though Chattanooga Christian School will obviously have to implement social distancing and cleaning protocols, the school hopes that using the platform will help keep someone who isn't feeling well from coming to campus and potentially coming into contact with others just to be sent home.

"We are going to go to extraordinary measures to safely do everything we can to bring students back to campus, because we value the embodiment of our campus," he added.

Dirkse said the school started looking for a way to manage the health data reported by employees and students each day, and clear, concise reporting to the Hamilton County Health Department and HIPAA compliance were his biggest concerns.

"At Base Camp Health, our core business is using data and analytics to identify and support vulnerable populations, and we are all vulnerable in this situation," McCormack said. "As communities begin to bring individuals back to their places of work, learning, and worship, it is important for employers and institutions to properly mitigate risks, and organizations are in need of that confidence to reopen. ... Ascend is a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform that enhances the safety of employees and students, limits liability risks for employers and institutions, and encourages individuals to play a part in their health and the health of those around them."

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Staff file photo / Chattanooga Christian School, located at 3354 Charger Drive, was photographed on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Other local companies and organizations are also signing on, including Erlanger's Express Care Clinics.

Both McCormack and Sharpe are proud that the app was developed by their female-led business — a rare sight in the tech field.

"I see that as a nod to what Chattanooga holds and values as Gig City," McCormack said. "With Ascend, we believe we can again capitalize on the unbelievable technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Gig City and lead the way in containing the threat of COVID-19 and restoring our economy by getting students back to school and employees back to work in a safe and smart way."

Sharpe added that, as mothers, the two also find that sometimes influences their work.

"Leigh and I are both moms and we are also thinking about the safety of our own kids as we return to work and they to school this fall. I throw that into my work as well and ask myself, 'If this was my child, is this what I would want their school to be doing?'"

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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