A phone app built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs that anonymously tracks COVID-19 exposure became available today to all Alabama residents.
“Alabama is the first state to launch the app,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Landers called the app “a powerful tool” to combat the coronavirus.
The app is a highly secure digital platform, said Dr. Curtis A. Carver Jr., vice president for information technology and chief information officer at UAB.
“The GuideSafe Exposure Notification 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. Data confidentiality and user privacy permeate every aspect of the app,” Carver said.
Alabama is one of the first states to launch Google and Apple’s joint notification exposure app to Alabamians over age 14. The two global companies are aligning with at least 20 states and U.S territories to create state-specific apps using their exposure notification systems.
UAB has applied for a patent for its app.
The GuideSafe app previously was available only to .edu email address holders. Now it can be downloaded at no cost by any individual across the state via iPhone and Android devices.
The app essentially works as follows:
- Once the GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification App is downloaded to an iPhone or Android device, users will opt-in to the notification system.
- The app never records location or identity or accesses your contact list. Instead, it generates a random code for each user phone. This random code changes every 10 to 20 minutes to preserve security.
- As users go about their day, all phones using the GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification App that are in close contact with others – defined as within six feet for greater than 15 minutes – will exchange these random codes via low-energy Bluetooth.
- This exchange works even if the app is in the background so that users can continue to use their phones for other tasks.
- When a self-reported and lab-verified positive COVID-19 test occurs, ADPH enables notification of all phones through a random code matching process using the past 14 days of data.
- If there is a match, the GuideSafe™ app will notify a user and facilitate assistance from ADPH, as well as point users toward other tools in the GuideSafe™ platform.
The superpower of the app, Carver said, is that you don’t know whose phones hold the information, and it uses only codes to protect privacy.
“The hope is that when people are in groups, they will encourage each other to download the GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification app as a way to keep everyone safe and healthy – and to keep Alabama open,” said Dr. Sue Feldman, professor of health informatics at UAB.
“This app relies on users to report their positive test results when they occur so that we all can take the right actions and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, together,” Feldman said.
“I would say to anybody that this is not a silver bullet to end COVID,” Feldman said, but it is another tool to fight the virus.
“This technology is capable of giving us a better chance at beating this pandemic, but for it to truly be effective, it’s going to take a large percentage of Alabamians downloading this app and using it to report any positive cases,” Feldman said.
“Only working together can we defeat COVID-19, and the GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification app is a step in that direction.”
For more information and a list of GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification App-specific FAQ’s, please visit guidesafe.org.