COVID-19 exposure notification pilot app launches at UC campuses

Local News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — There has been a huge show of interest by students and staff at the University of California, Davis for a phone app that notifies people when they have been exposed to someone who has contracted COVID-19.

The notification system has been rolled out by the state public health department at seven UC campuses to see if students and staff will use the system, given privacy concerns.

Contact tracing is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 but it is labor-intensive and often a slow process.

“The system that we’ve launched is exposure notification, is very different from contact tracing,” said Katherine Kim, associate professor at the UC Davis School of Nursing and the School of Medicine.

Developed jointly by Apple and Google, cell phone users who opt-in are linked by Bluetooth through random codes generated every few minutes. The links activate when they’re within COVID-19 exposure distance.

“Any phones that had exchanged random numbers in the last 14 days will receive a notification that they may have been exposed to COVID-19,” according to a Google-Apple informational video.

That notification will include what to do next, whether that’s getting tested, isolating or visiting a doctor.

Infected subjects don’t have to wrack their brains over who they were close to and when, and exposures could happen even if they don’t know the person or their contact information.

The UC pilot project also allows those who contract COVID-19 to have the final say on whether or not to activate the notification system.

Other COVID-19 exposure apps use GPS to track identities, locations and times, a huge privacy concern that may prevent people from signing up for exposure notification. And those apps are only effective if a lot of people sign up.

But Apple and Google engineers are trying to reassure potential users.

“Apps using this system cannot track your location, and second, this system does not share your identity with Google, Apple or other users,” their video stated.

“We don’t know who you are, we don’t know your cell phone number, we don’t know your email, we don’t know your name,” Kim said. “And when you do have a potential exposure, we aren’t going to tell you who that person was.”

Which is probably why the first two UC campuses to start using the app a month ago generated over 20,000 responses.

The expansion of the test this week is confirming the interest.

“Of the five campuses that launched on Monday, already on the first day we have far exceeded that number,” Kim said. “So we don’t even have numbers for the second day yet.”

The system will be made available to the general public once an evaluation is made of how effective it might be and whether people will sign up for the notification system.

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