UCSD Launches COVID-19 ‘Exposure Notification' Pilot Program

The Exposure Notification Express app is expected to be available to UCSD students, staff and faculty by the end of the month

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The University of Calfornia San Diego is launching a voluntary pilot program that uses smart-phone technology designed to quickly notify participants if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

“We’re taking every available tool at our disposal to try to limit the impact of any possible outbreaks,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, Chief Information Officer of UC San Diego Health.

He said the COVID-19 “Exposure Notification Express" application, developed by Apple and Google, has been in progress since March. UCSD was approved to use the application as part of a pilot program, which was approved by the state Friday.

Longhurst said the application is expected to become available to students, staff and faculty by the end of September, as Fall quarter begins.

“If there’s Bluetooth signals near you, sophisticated algorithms can figure out, ‘are they (another participating device) within the 6 feet CDC guidelines, how long are they close to you?” he said.

If a participant tests positive for COVID-19, Longhurst said the person will receive a special code.

“We then can offer them, as UCSD Health, a key-code to put into the app and it’s that key code that starts that anonymous exposure notification process," Longhurst explained. "The alert that would come up would say something along the lines of, 'you may have been exposed to a person who was diagnosed with COVID.'"

Only participating users who were in contact with the infected person will receive a notification.

Longhurst also acknowledged the concern over privacy. He said location information is not collected, user identities are not shared with anyone (including developers Apple and Google), and instead, users are given anonymous security codes. He also said users can opt-out any time they’d like.

One fourth-year student, Christian, told NBC 7 he was interested in the program, but was still hesitant to opt-in, citing concerns for his privacy despite the university doing their best to ensure a secure and anonymous network. Christian admits the technology could be a helpful role in containing COVID-19 outbreaks.

“The idea is good, and I hope more people will participate,” Christian said.  

Longhurst said the pilot program is expected to last four weeks. If it is successful, and approved, it can become available to Californians who wish to join. The technology is already available as part of the iOS 13.7 iPhone update, but cannot be used in California until approved by the California Department of Public Health. 

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