SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the California Department of Technology (CDT) announced Thursday an expansion of their partnership with the University of California to test the Exposure Notification Express mobile technology recently released by Google and Apple. The mobile technology, known as CA Notify, confidentially notifies individuals who opt in if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The new tool aims to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The state launched the pilot project in September with UC San Diego and UC San Francisco and will now expand the project to UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Riverside in mid-November.
Under the pilot projects, participating UC locations have an opportunity to offer the technology to help curb the transmission of COVID-19. Importantly, privacy and security are central to the design of the technology, which does not collect location data from any device and never shares user identities.
“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 Dr. 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.”
UC San Diego estimates nearly 15,000 users have activated CA Notify, representing close to 50% of the on‐campus community. UC San Francisco estimates 5,000 users out of an estimated 10,000 on-campus population have voluntarily activated the software. More than a dozen private codes have been issued to students and employees using the software who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“We are encouraged to know that nearly 50 percent of the individuals who have access to the technology have proactively activated it to see how it might protect them and their UC communities,” said CDT Director Amy Tong. “We continue to use the pilot project to better understand the technology and its privacy protections, which is critical in determining whether to roll out the system more broadly to all Californians.”
The exposure notification platform uses Bluetooth technology to notify individuals who have been in close proximity of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. When the technology is voluntarily activated by users, Bluetooth detects when two mobile devices are in the same vicinity – without revealing a user’s identity or location. Users who test positive for the virus can choose to anonymously share that information to benefit public health. The technology does not collect, store or transmit any personally identifiable user information.
Individuals who receive an exposure notification via CA Notify are provided instructions for next steps which may include monitoring symptoms, self-isolation, getting tested, or contacting their public health department. Use of the technology may allow those who were exposed to be alerted more quickly, as well as being able to alert strangers who may not be identified using traditional contact tracing methods.
“What started six weeks ago with two UC campuses has now grown to seven locations,” says Dr. Carrie L. Byington, executive vice president of University of California Health and an infectious disease expert. “This demonstrates the commitment across the University to battling COVID-19 in collaboration with the state of California. We are in this fight together.”
UC San Diego was the first campus to launch the smartphone application as part of its Return to Learn program in September. UC San Diego Health is now guiding the other UC campuses in the launch of the application across the state.
“UC San Diego and UCSF have had measurable success in early exposure notification using the app,” said Christopher Longhurst, MD, CIO, 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.”
UC campuses have resources to test students, faculty and staff for COVID-19 and also have call centers and university employees to help launch the pilot projects with little to no assistance from their local public health departments.