State university officials, ADPH announce GuideSafe COVID-19 assessment and exposure tracking app

Back to School 2020

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Monday, representatives from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, The University of Alabama System, and Alabama Department of Public Health, announced the launch of GuideSafe, a multitool platform encompassing the formerly announced Stay Safe Together and Testing for Alabama initiatives.

Being developed in connection with two of America’s largest tech companies: Apple and Google, it is aimed at reducing the number of ADPH personnel needed to provide notice of a positive test and reduce spread of the virus. The GuideSafe app’s development was lead by a team of experts at UAB who aim to promote a safe entry to higher education campuses and ongoing COVID-19 monitoring for students and the community at large.

Governor Kay Ivey designated $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money for the software.

About the GuideSafe App

According to developers, the GuideSafe app is comprised of 3 components:

  • Healthcheck
  • Exposure Notification App
  • Event Passport

The Healthcheck function is required to be used by all college students, staff and faculty. This component consists of a set of questions that assess symptoms and exposure to COVID-19. An initial set up survey is performed the first time you access Healthcheck and will take about 20 seconds to complete. Administrators are asking that those on campus complete an assessment each day, and at the very least once every three days.

The Exposure Notification App is not required to be used by students, faculty and staff. However, administrators say it is highly recommended. This component of the GuideSafe technology anonymously shares a positive COVID-19 test result, and can be anonymously notified of potential previous close contact with someone who later reports a positive COVID-19 test result. Developers say it performs said tasks without compromising anyone’s identity.

The closed pilot phase of the GuideSafe’s anonymous Exposure Notification System (ENS) app officially launched Monday. College students across Alabama will be invited to participate, and any individual in the state of Alabama with an email address that ends with “.edu” is encouraged to sign up to participate in the pilot phase.

The final component of the GuideSafe app, Event Passport, facilitates access to facilities, meetings and events with 10 or more participants. 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.

College Students Must be Tested for COVID-19

University administrators also emphasized that a negative COVID-19 test result will be required for Alabama college students before they are allowed on their respective campuses. University officials said they have determined 13 testing locations for students across the state. The testing sites will open August 4.

The locations were selected based on where students live, not the proximity to campus. There are two Huntsville locations on the list. You can find a full list of locations on the GuideSafe website.

University officials are asking that students check their email accounts to schedule a location and time to be tested ahead of returning to campus.

The tests for college students will be a self-administered swab in the nostril. This method differs from the standard, more invasive, nasopharyngeal swab. The new method has been sensitivity tested, and according to UAB is proven to be just as effective.

Commercial labs are dependent on pre-made kits, UAB Dr. Michael Saag said those kits are in short supply right now, which leads to longer turnaround. Saag said thanks to a testing method developed by UAB’s Department of Pathology, that does not rely on those kits, officials anticipate they will test between 10,000 and 12,000 students each day. At that rate, more than 200,000 students will be tested over the next month. Tests will be sent to UAB’s pathology lab and are expected to turnaround in 24-48 hours.

UAB officials said in the initial planning of the software, statewide testing wasn’t their main focus as numbers didn’t reflect the same need they do now. They are hopeful they will be able to provide the same tests to Alabama citizens in the coming weeks.

State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Harris, said what UAB has developed shows a lot of promise and he anticipates this method being the future of state testing.

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