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GuideSafe app an essential tool as colleges and universities go back to school

The three-part program to manage COVID-19 is a vital part of the schools' reentry plans.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — How are college and university students in Alabama going to go safely back to campus? GuideSafe is a big part of the plan.

Most Alabama higher education campuses and all University of Alabama system campuses require students, faculty, and staff to be tested for COVID-19. Those with positive test results must quarantine according to state health guidelines before they are allowed to return to campus.

What is GuideSafe?

GuideSafe is a three-part program designed by UAB to facilitate back-to-school for colleges and universities.

The app essentially works as follows:

HEALTH CHECK:

HealthCheck - A COVID-19 assessment tool that allows individuals nationwide to report COVID-19 health status, symptoms and exposure. 

Most campuses require COVID-19 testing, and GuideSafe will provide that.

Exposure Notification - Users can anonymously share a positive COVID-19 test result —and be anonymously notified of potential previous close contact with someone who later reports a positive COVID-19 test result—without sharing anyone’s identity. The app protects your privacy while giving you the power to protect the health of yourself, your family, and your community. 

Event Passport - Used to facilitate access to meetings, events, or facilities having ten or more people. Event attendees will complete Healthcheck, a COVID-19 assessment tool. Event passport is issued based on a proprietary risk algorithm. Each user is assigned a unique passport number indicating their status for the upcoming event. Event Passport can also be used to ensure compliance with reporting requirements by denying facility, meeting or event access to individuals who have not completed the required assessment.

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Tell me more about this "notification app". 

  • Once the GuideSafeTM 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 GuideSafeTM 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 GuideSafeTM app will notify a user and facilitate assistance from ADPH, as well point users toward other tools in the GuideSafeTM

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Who created GuideSafe?

GuideSafe™ – a platform developed by a team of experts at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), part of The University of Alabama System, to combat COVID-19 – today launched its anonymous Exposure Notification App to the general public.

Alabama is one of the first states in the U.S. to launch Google and Apple’s joint technology to the general public. The two global companies are currently aligning with at least 20 states and U.S territories – representing nearly half of the country's population – to create state-specific apps.

Is GuideSafe secure?

Those behind the GuideSafeTM Exposure Notification App’s development and implementation today stressed its highly secure technology and program interface.

“The GuideSafeTM 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 A. Carver Jr., Ph.D., vice president for Information Technology and chief information officer at UAB.

Supported by CARES Act funding, the GuideSafeTM Exposure Notification App was built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs in active collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and integrating Google and Apple's Exposure Notification System (ENS). This app, previously available only to .edu email address holders during its recent pilot phase, can now be downloaded at no cost by any individual across the entire state via iPhone and Android devices.

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“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.”

Carver added, “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. Data confidentiality and user privacy permeate every aspect of the app.”    

Who should use GuideSafe and when?

“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, R.N., MEd, Ph.D., 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, GuideSafeTM 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 GuideSafeTM Exposure Notification app is a step in that direction.”

For more information and a list of GuideSafeTM Exposure Notification App-specific FAQ’s, please visit guidesafe.org.

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