The Middle Tennessee tech company Hytch is adapting its mobility app, which normally encourages commuters to carpool or use mass transit, to help employers manage employees during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Hytch normally works by paying commuters a few cents per mile to carpool. Employers pay for those rewards as a benefit for employees or to reduce parking problems. The app already uses the GPS in users’ phones to track the path of the trip.  

Over the last several months, Hytch has rolled out some features to help companies manage their employees during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In March, when many communities across the U.S. were under orders to shelter in place, Hytch added an option to pay employees a small amount to stay quarantined. Later, the company created a questionnaire that screens users for coronavirus symptoms or risky behaviors. 

Now, Hytch is offering to help government contact tracers and employers monitor coronavirus cases by sharing—only with users’ explicit permission—the logs that show where users have been on their commute. 

“If you were using the Hytch app today, you would know that you have a mobility log … It shows you where you started, where you ended, what the date was, who you were with. It shows you everything," Hytch CEO Mark Cleveland said. "If I get sick with COVID, I'm going to pull up my trip history and give it to the contact tracer.” 

Afterwards, Cleveland said the company can work with the state to help contact tracers identify and contact any other Hytch users who might have been on the same bus or in the same carpool. 

“We can knock three days off the search,” Cleveland said. “If there's another Hytch user in there, we know exactly who to contact.”

Hytch’s approach is distinct from other technology companies. Earlier this year, Apple and Goole worked together to make a tool that uses bluetooth to anonymously monitor when app users come into close proximity with each other.

If a user gets COVID-19, they can report the illness to the app. Anyone they recently came into close contact with would get a notification letting them know about the risk, without revealing the sick person’s identity. 

Apple and Google didn’t create an app. It’s up to state health departments to create an app using the company’s technology. So far, five states have launched contact tracing apps. Google claims that 20 states are trying to build additional apps.    

Michael Rodenberg, the CEO of a car component manufacturing company called Murakami with a factory in Kentucky, said his company recently partnered with Hytch to encourage their workers to carpool more often, making it easier for employees without cars to get to work. 

However, during the coronavirus outbreak, Rodenberg said Hytch’s coronavirus questionnaire will also save the company a lot of time.

“Right now, we have to ask the questions and scan somebody. Then we have to put a sticker on their badge every day. That could be eliminated,” Rodenberg said. “People don't think about that being a big deal, but it is.” 

Hytch waived service fees for employers that joined the program before May 29. The app is free to users, and state government would also not have to pay to get access to the data. 

The contact tracing initiative has only been around for about a month, and Hytch wasn’t able to share how many people had used the app to help contact tracers. Cleveland also said he wasn’t able to share how many people actively use the app.