Supported by federal coronavirus aid bill funding, the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App was built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and integrating Google‘s and Apple‘s Exposure Notification System (ENS). This app, previously available only to .edu email address holders during a pilot phase, can now be downloaded at no cost by any person in Alabama via iPhone and Android devices.
“This is an exciting day for all Alabamians, and we appreciate Gov. 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.”
Alabama is one of the first states in the U.S. to launch Google’s and Apple’s joint technology to the general public. The two global companies are aligning with at least 20 states and U.S. territories – representing nearly half of the country’s population – to create state-specific apps using their ENS.
Those behind the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App’s development and implementation stressed its highly secure technology and program interface.
“The GuideSafe Exposure Notification app complements and strengthens ADPH’s efforts by accelerating notification of possible exposures, and uses the power of technology to notify those you do not know – or cannot remember coming into contact with – when the health department reaches out to you after your positive test,” said Curtis Carver Jr., vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer at UAB.
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 changes every 10-20 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 6 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 past 14 days of data.
- If there is a match, the GuideSafe app will notify a user and facilitate assistance from ADPH, and point users toward other tools in GuideSafe.
“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.”
The more widely it is used, the better the data.
“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 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.
“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.”