The University of California, Davis, and its campus in Sacramento are expanding their fight against the coronavirus by encouraging students, staff and faculty and the Davis community to use the California COVID Notify app for digital tracking and automated notification of potential exposure to the virus.
The technology, which works through smartphones, can tell users they may have been in close proximity to someone with COVID-19 — even complete strangers — and for a long enough period of time to pose the risk of exposure. The app relies on contact between phones without tracking locations, and users are never identified.
UC Davis has joined six other UC campuses in the California COVID Notify pilot project, in partnership with the state of California, which is evaluating whether to make the system available statewide.
“We are proud to participate in this pilot to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Chancellor Gary S. May said. “Each of us must do all we can, and this app is one more tool at your disposal. I encourage our community to learn more about it as it alerts you of possible exposure and gives you the chance to make even better informed decisions.”
The Davis and Sacramento campuses are sending messages this week to students, staff and faculty, telling them about California COVID Notify and inviting them to enroll their phones. Healthy Davis Together, the university-city partnership in the fight against COVID-19, will launch a similar campaign in early December.
David Lubarsky, vice chancellor of Human Health Sciences and CEO of UC Davis Health, said: “If used widely enough, California COVID Notify represents a game-changer in how we fight this virus in California.”
The app, he said, “supplements contact tracing work and can dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19, keeping our colleagues, families and friends, as well as ourselves, safer and healthier.”
Bluetooth to Bluetooth
California COVID Notify uses Exposure Notification Express mobile technology from Google and Apple. The technology relies on Bluetooth keys shared between smartphones using Android or iOS (Apple) operating systems.
Android users who wish to participate must download the California COVID Notify app, whereas iOS users can activate it in their iPhone settings. [Note to iPhone users: You must be using iOS 14.2, which came out Nov. 5, or a later version.] When the app is activated, phones start broadcasting randomly generated and anonymous keys — which change every 10 to 20 minutes.
When another phone using California COVID 19 is nearby, both phones will remember each other’s keys and the amount of time the phones are near each other — but not the users’ identities or locations, which are never collected.
If a California COVID Notify user tests positive for the virus, they can voluntarily decide to input that information into the app, using a code provided by their participating health care provider. The system would then match up that user’s phone with close contacts it has had with other people’s phones over the last 14 days — and notify those users of their potential exposure.
The alerts come with instructions for next steps which may include symptom monitoring, self-isolation, getting tested or having users contact their public health departments.
In the first phase of UC Davis’ participation in the pilot project, only results from tests conducted by UC Davis Health, UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services, and Davis campus and Healthy Davis Together testing sites can be shared with the app.
Even if you cannot share your results at this time, you will receive notifications of other people’s positive test results when they choose to share them.
The state Department of Public Health launched the California COVID Notify pilot in mid-September at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco. Total signups for both locations are about 20,000.
The campuses “have had measurable success in early exposure notification using the app,” said Christopher Longhurst, chief information officer at UC San Diego Health. “The more people who use the application, the slower the virus will spread. By expanding into additional geographical areas, we can benefit more of the full population. The big picture is a safer California for everyone.”
Besides UC Davis, the expansion takes in the Berkeley, Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara campuses.
“Extending the pilot project allows us to reach a larger and more diverse pool of users to further evaluate the technology’s potential to help California slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Erica Pan, interim state public health officer. “Fighting COVID-19 will continue to take all of us working together to find innovative and creative ways to keep our communities safe and healthy.
“Our appreciation goes out to the University of California students and employees who have opted in to test this new technology.”
Carrie L. Byington, executive vice president of UC Health and an infectious disease expert, said: “What started six weeks ago with two UC campuses has now grown to seven locations. This demonstrates the commitment across the university to battling COVID-19 in collaboration with the state of California. We are in this fight together.”