Alabama health, education officials announce coronavirus contact tracing apps for college students

Credit: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health and The University of Alabama System discussed the state’s contact tracing apps in a news conference Monday morning.

Posted: Aug 3, 2020 10:02 AM
Updated: Aug 3, 2020 4:45 PM

UPDATE: Officials said there are three key components, the Healthcheck app, Exposure Notification app and Event Passport app.

The Healthcheck app is described as a coronavirus assessment tool where users can report symptoms. College students in Alabama are required to use it, officials said during Monday's news conference. UAB says "All higher education, as well as K-12, businesses and organizations, must opt in for students or employees to access and use this tool."

The Exposure Notification app is available to anyone in Alabama with a “.edu” email address to participate in a closed pilot launch. It’s limited to 10,000 users per platform for Apple and Android, or 20,000 in total. It will anonymously alert you if you’ve come in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus. Close contact is considered 6 feet or less of exposure for at least 15 minutes.

The Event Passport app is described as an “assessment tool for meetings, conferences, and events of more than 10 people.” "After completing HealthCheck, an algorithm renders an event passport for presentation at events. Green means an individual is good to attend, while red means you should not attend," UAB said in a statement.

Officials worked with Apple and Google in developing the apps. They said 20,000 people are invited to participate in the Exposure Notification app on Monday.

Right now, the apps are intended for colleges and universities in the state, but officials said the hope is to make them available to the public statewide.

The announcement was made while Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer, said he's still watching the number of cases. 

"We continue to be concerned about the numbers overall. We have had an increase in cases in a number of counties as reflected on the risk map you referred to. We have seen a slight decline in the last week. It's fallen by about a percentage point," he said. 

They also discussed coronavirus testing for every college student in Alabama at no cost. Pilot testing has been done in Birmingham since July 26.

It’s planned that more than 200,000 college students will be tested in the next 4 weeks as they return to campuses.

"We have a high degree of confidence we can do this successfully as long as everyone's behavior is in the right manner to be serious about this and for our students to understand that it is vital that they comply with this program because that's the only way they are going to be able to come back to college or the unviersity safely," Dr. Ray Watts, President of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said. 

The UAB Department of Pathology will process tests prior to students’ entry. They are able to process 10,000 to 12,000 tests per day with a turnaround time of 24 to 48 hours. 

"While pilots have been conducted in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa since July 26, mandatory GuideSafe™ Entry Testing (formerly Stay Safe Together™ Testing) will begin at 11 additional locations across Alabama tomorrow, Aug. 4. Two additional sites will open in Marion and Talladega on Aug. 10 and Aug. 14, respectively. Students will receive communication directly from or and be directed to a web link to register for a testing location and appointment," UAB said in its statement. 

Students can use the nasal swabs themselves. 

WAAY 31 asked officials if the test could possibly replace the current nasopharyngeal used widely across the state.

"It will help us with such a large scale crucial for us was that we maintained the same sensitivity that we were doing with the nasopharyngeal swab. we went ahead in the lab and validated that indeed we are not going to be losing sensitivity by switching to that. there are a lot of studies showing that it is equally sensitive. that was the only reason we moved to that and that will benefit us we anticipate patients down the road switching to that platform," George Netto, with the UAB Department of Pathology said. 

On Monday, leaders in Madison County said since the test is not widely used currently they had some questions and concerns about it. 

"It is not something that we will work with in the hospital. Obviously, we hold ourselves to quite a high standard, and we can only use things that are approved under the emergency authorization use by the FDA, so I don't have any information on the self administered [tests]," Dr. Pam Hudson, Crestwood Hospital CEO, said.

"I hope that it's not a false sense of security. We don't know what the false positive or false negative rates are, but again it's another method that I think will probably be very successful in the days ahead, but currently we don't really know the success rate of these tests," Dale Strong, Madison County Commission Chairman added. 

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said he thinks the new self adminstered test shows a lot of promise. The turnaround time on results is expected to be up to 48 hours. Students need to quarantine until the recieve those results, according to UAB. 

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On Monday at 10 a.m., officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health and The University of Alabama System are giving an update about the state’s contact tracing app.

The app is called "GuideSafe.” A news release from the state’s health department describes it as “the uniting platform/brand for ongoing communication about COVID-19 testing, tools and actions, and was developed by a team of experts at UAB to promote a safe entry to higher education campuses and ongoing COVID-19 monitoring for students and the community at large.”

GuideSafe is funded by $30 million from the federal CARES Act.

The following representatives are participating in the news conference:

  • Finis St. John, chancellor of The University of Alabama System
  • Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer, Alabama Department of Public Health
  • Dr. Ray Watts, president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Dr. Sue Feldman, associate professor of health informatics, UAB School of Health Professions
  • Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine

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