A smart phone app that alerts users to coronavirus exposure has been released for general use in Alabama and experts said it could become a powerful tool to curb spread of the virus.
The GuideSafe Exposure Notification App is free to download and available to all Alabama residents with iPhone and Android devices. It communicates confidentially with other app users to track contacts who have spent 15 minutes within 6 feet of each other, which is the length of exposure public health officials use in contact tracing.
The app does not identify individuals or track locations. But it allows users to receive notifications if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 along with information about quarantine and testing.
GuideSafe has been available to Alabama college students since Aug. 3. Curtis Carver, chief information officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said 1,800 users have downloaded the app. UAB health informatics professor Sue Feldman said one user had a positive test confirmed through the app.
“You can report a positive test to the app,” Feldman said. “It then alerts others who have been in 6 feet for 15 minutes. By checking the exposure check box, you can see how many exposures you’ve had in the last 14 days.”
GuideSafe does not replace contact tracing performed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, Feldman said. It can help notify individuals who have unknowingly been in contact with a positive patient in the 14 days prior to testing.
“That’s the superpower of this app,” Carver said. “You don’t have to know a person’s name or location. You don’t need to know any of that. The phone does it for you.”
Those identities will not be shared with public health officials because the app doesn’t store personal information, Feldman said. The app will only notify those who have been exposed.
If enough people download the app, it could become a powerful tool to control the spread of COVID-19, Carver said. It can bolster the work of contact tracers, he said. Users will remain anonymous to each other and to the app, which works by generating a series of random codes to communicate.
“This app was designed to strenuously protect personal privacy while anonymously alerting a user of possible exposure to someone who later tests positive to COVID-19,” Carver said. “Data confidentiality and user privacy permeate every aspect of the app.”
Carver said the app could be particular useful in crowded environments because it will identify those in close contact with an infected person, even those unknown to the patient.
“Do you want to go to a football game? Then you need to have this app downloaded,” Carver said. “Do you want to go to a concert? Then you need to have this app downloaded. It takes nothing. Be a hero and download the app and add it to your arsenal of tools to protect others.”
The GuideSafe app was developed with funding from the CARES Act. Experts from UAB worked with Birmingham-based MotionMobs and the Alabama Department of Public Health to develop the technology. Alabama is one of the first states to offer this technology to the public, said Dr. Karen Landers, medical officer for the norther district of Alabama.
“We must be stronger, and we must be smarter, and this app will allow us to be just that,” Landers said. (Click to Source)
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