UCSD To Roll Out Smartphone Pilot Program For COVID-19 Exposure Alerts
Speaker 1: 00:00 There are lessons to be learned from the health crisis that developed when students returned to campus this month at San Diego state university, they're at least 640 of them contracted COVID-19 and leaders at UC San Diego. We'll have a new tool in their kit to minimize spread of the virus. And when classes begin on the LA Jolla campus now scheduled for September 28th, it has to do with tracing via smartphones. And joining me to explain as dr. Christopher Long Hearst, the chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego health. Welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:33 Thank you very much for having me on Mark Speaker 1: 00:35 Phone tool. What is it and who will have it on their phones? Speaker 2: 00:38 So the smartphone tool that we're talking about, uh, is not actually a contact tracing application. It's called an exposure notification application. What that means is that if you come into contact with somebody whose phone is close to yours, and they're diagnosed with COVID, that you could get an anonymous notification of exposure, and that allows you to go get tested and shorten that cycle time, and hopefully, uh, hopefully limit the spread of the outbreak. Speaker 1: 01:06 So if I'm on campus as a student or a staff faculty member, and suddenly I get a beep on my phone, it's going to tell me just what exactly. Speaker 2: 01:14 So you might get that beep on your phone and you'd get a message that says, uh, you've come into close contact with somebody who is recently diagnosed with COVID. Please call this number for more information. And when you call the number, you'll get the UC San Diego health testing line. And based off the message that you're getting, we can give you a risk prioritized recommendation around either isolating or actually getting tested. For example, if you were exposed, um, just, uh, within the last couple of days, we might ask you to get tested today and again, five days from now. And of course that's at no cost to our students and employees, Speaker 1: 01:47 Is this really going to help? Who is this most important for this new year? Speaker 2: 01:51 We think that this exposure notification tool is not going to help your household contacts, friends, and family members that you would call and tell. Anyway, if you were diagnosed with COVID, we think that the people that it's going to help most are the strangers, it's the people at the college party or at the restaurant or at the bar or in the grocery store on the plane and the bus who you would not otherwise know their name and phone number. When the contact tracers call you, those are the people who will be notified and would not have been otherwise notified. And that's where we're really going to get a movement on these outbreaks. Speaker 1: 02:23 Now, the university got state permission to launch a pilot program for this it's not been done elsewhere in California, right? Speaker 2: 02:29 Yeah, that's right. In fact, it's almost the reserve, the reverse, which is the state has decided to roll this out in a pilot and UC San Diego stepped forward and volunteered. Speaker 1: 02:39 What about privacy concerns? Does this mean participants in this program can have their movements track? Speaker 2: 02:44 Absolutely not. I'm glad that you asked, um, these exposure notification applications from Apple and Google do not allow for any location tracking. And that's really important. There were some rumors early in the pandemic that, uh, some countries in Asia and we're using location tracking for contact tracing. And it turns out not only does that not help, it doesn't work. Um, this is really distance based. It's using the Bluetooth to measure distance to other people's phones. Um, it doesn't track any location at all. That makes sense. This is a voluntary and opt-in program, and we hope that our employees and students will choose to opt in, but we know the number one concern that comes forward is privacy. We've done extensive reviews from a privacy standpoint, and we feel really confident that this is an anonymous system that will not store any individual user data. Speaker 1: 03:35 How many students do you expect back on campus at the end of the month and any guests on how many students and staff will opt to participate in this particular? Speaker 2: 03:43 So we're expecting close to 8,000 students back on campus, uh, and thousands more who will be moving off campus into the region. The prediction for how many people adopted a, your desk may be as good as mine. But our goal is over 75%. Uh, we know that with over 50% adoption that we can actually have an impact on the spread of this disease. Even lower rates can help prevent infections. Speaker 1: 04:05 I'd read that this had been tried elsewhere in the world during the pandemic. What have you learned from experiments in other places? Speaker 2: 04:12 That's a great question. So Apple and Google announced this technology that they were working on in March. They rolled it out in may. And over the summer we saw a number of privacy board. European countries actually adopt this technology. So the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and others have started rolling this out over the last couple of months. So we're definitely building on their best practices. One of the things that we've learned from the other six us States that have already rolled this out like Virginia, Alabama, and even Arizona, is that putting the notification process at the contact tracing stage is a little bit too far downstream. So the way that the notification works, if I'm diagnosed with COVID, is that I'm given a key code to enter because we don't want just anybody to be able to retest that they've been diagnosed. Right? So that key code is what starts the anonymous exposure notification process. Speaker 2: 05:03 So rather than having our contact tracers give out those key codes, we're actually asking our testing line to do it. So after we test you here at UC San Diego health, and we do a thousand tests every day, um, on a daily basis, we're going to find some students and some employees who were positive when we call them up, we'll say, Hey, you've been diagnosed with COVID. We're going to call you on a daily basis to check in on you and your symptoms. And we can give you a six digit key code to anonymously alert people. You may have exposed if you like to put that in. So it's a voluntary stuff. Speaker 1: 05:38 This pilot program at UCLA, I'm sure it's going to be watched closely across the state and the nation. What other protections will be in place when students return to campus? Speaker 2: 05:46 Our most important protection is obviously masking. And so, uh, we're asking all of our students, faculty and staff to wear masks and any space where they could encounter other. And that's really the root of prevention of COVID-19. This is something that can augment contact tracing if there is an outbreak, but the modeling certainly shows that it's likely to help. Um, you know, what could be an outbreak affecting 20, 30 or 40 students might be reduced to three or four students because we're testing the isolating more quickly than we would be without this tool. I've been speaking with dr. Christopher Long Hurst, the chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego health. Thanks very much. Thank you, Mark.