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UAB Releases Coronavirus Exposure Notification App

BIRMINGHAM, AL — A new mobile platform developed by a team of experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to combat COVID-19 was introduced to the public Monday. UAB launched its anonymous Exposure Notification App, which can alert a user when he or she has been possibly exposed to COVID-19.

Supported by CARES Act funding, the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App was built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs in active collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health and integrating Google and Apple’s Exposure Notification System.

This app, previously available only to .edu email address holders during its recent pilot phase, can now be downloaded at no cost by anyone across the entire state via iPhone and Android devices.

“This is an exciting day for all Alabamians, and we appreciate Governor Kay Ivey for providing us with the funding used to help put this statewide effort in place,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for ADPH. “This tool will arm us with the power to inform ourselves and those around us of potential exposure to COVID-19 safely and securely, which will be powerful as we move forward in combating the virus.”

The app was designed to 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, according to UAB officials.

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 through a few simple steps.The app never records location or identity or accesses your contact list. Instead, the app generates a random code for each user phone. This random code then changes every 10 to 20 minutes to preserve security.As users go about their day, all phones utilizing the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App that are in close contact – defined as within six feet for greater than 15 minutes – of others 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 last 14 days of data.If there is a match, the GuideSafe app will notify a user and facilitate assistance from ADPH, as well point users toward other tools in the GuideSafe

“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 and director of graduate programs in 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.”

Users will never know from whom the notification came or to whom the notification has been sent, nor the time or the location – only the date of the possible exposure. Ultimately, GuideSafe app notifications can arm users with information needed to quarantine or seek testing and treatment, all while protecting user privacy and empowering users to protect themselves, their families and their communities.

Feldman added, “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. Only working together can we defeat COVID-19, and the GuideSafe Exposure Notification app is a step in that direction.”

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