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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Exposure Notification App Tested At UCSD Now Available To All Californians

 December 10, 2020 at 10:28 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Today California introduces a new tool to help people determine their exposure to COVID-19. The CA notify app is available on Apple and Google smartphones. The technology was tested on the UC San Diego campus. Earlier this year. The purpose is to alert people privately and anonymously. If they have been insignificant contact with someone who's tested positive for COVID-19 here to explain how it works is my guest, Dr. Christopher Long Hearst, chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego health. Dr. Long Hurst. Welcome to the program. Thank you so much for having me now. One thing it's important, I think to explain right from the start is that this is not a real time device. It doesn't start beeping if you get near someone with the virus. So instead, explain to us how it does Speaker 2: 00:53 You bet. The way this works is it's a completely privacy preserving approach that uses Bluetooth signals to identify when your phone may have been near somebody else's device, who later is diagnosed with COVID. So by turning on these anonymous exposure notifications, you can ensure that if somebody you've been close to in the last 14 days is diagnosed with COVID and triggers the system that you would be anonymously alerted. Speaker 1: 01:19 So two people who have this app are standing in line together, and a few days later, one of them is diagnosed with COVID. What happens then? Speaker 2: 01:28 So at that point, if I spent greater than 15 minutes, within six feet of somebody else who is diagnosed with COVID, I would receive an anonymous exposure notification alert on my phone. CA notify would tell me that on a given date, I may have been exposed to somebody with COVID-19 and that I should consider quarantining and testing Speaker 1: 01:48 Does this. Appertain the codes of all the people in encounters who also have the app. Speaker 2: 01:53 It retains anonymous codes for only 14 days. So after 14 days, all the data is wiped and no identifiable information ever leaves your device. Speaker 1: 02:03 And let me take you back on this. If you did get one of these alerts on the app, should you immediately get tested for COVID? Speaker 2: 02:11 The alert will give you indication of when you may have been exposed based on that your doctor can help guide you as to when you should be tested. Typically we recommend post-exposure testing at five days after exposure. Speaker 1: 02:25 Is this a form of contact tracing. Speaker 2: 02:28 We really see exposure notification as an augmentation to traditional contact tracing contact tracing works really well for friends and family and people whose names and numbers, you know, exposure notification works really well for strangers. We know, for example, that public transportation can be a vector for spreading COVID-19. And yet it's impossible to track down the people you rode the bus with. This is where that app can really help. Speaker 1: 02:54 Now just like the new vaccines coming out. Isn't the usefulness, this app determined by the number of people who Speaker 2: 03:02 That's right? The more people who adopt it, the more effective it is. So we're hoping for terrific adoption in the state of California today, alerts are going out to everybody's Apple iPhones and Android smartphones. And if we see the same adoption, the state of Colorado and state of Washington have seen in the last couple of weeks, we anticipate millions of people will be using this. Speaker 1: 03:23 Is there a percentage in terms of use where the app becomes most effective? Speaker 2: 03:27 It's really not about a given number. It's more about getting more people to use it. So the more people who use it, the more effective it is, Speaker 1: 03:34 You know, we're hearing the top story today is that the FDA panel is considering to give emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccines. Since we're nearing the beginning of the distribution of a vaccine is the rollout of this app too late. Speaker 2: 03:52 I can tell you that many of us wish that we had done this earlier, but we're excited that it's here now. And so the vaccine will hopefully be approved today and start rolling out. But it'll initially only be for high risk employees of healthcare systems, nursing homes, things like that. And so it's going to be months before our general population has access to this vaccine. And in the meantime, we're experiencing the worst surge that we've ever had yesterday in the United States, we had more diagnoses of COVID than ever before. More people hospitalized and more deaths over 3000 people died of COVID-19 yesterday. And given that the vaccine is months away, the exposure notification technology can help save lives for the next six months. Speaker 1: 04:36 And what do you say to people who are wary of opting in over privacy concerns, afraid that their identities and locations will be public knowledge. Speaker 2: 04:46 We know that it's one of the top concerns for people who don't turn on this exposure notification life-saving technology. And yet the app does not collect any location information and no identifiable information ever leaves the device. We did a lot of investigation during our pilot at UC San Diego, and even our most staunch privacy advocates felt comfortable that this technology is privacy preserving. Speaker 1: 05:08 The app has been tested at UC San Diego. How did that pilot program go? Speaker 2: 05:14 We started testing this technology in late September when UC San Diego moved 10,000 students onto campus, more than any other in the state of California with our on-campus population, we found uptake of over 50% and among our students over 75%, this technology was part of our overall campus safety program and helped us to keep viral transmission at less than 1% of our campus residents. When the same community in San Diego was experiencing a surge from three to over 7%. Speaker 1: 05:45 And where else outside of California, has this app been tested or used, Speaker 2: 05:51 Seen other States and territories have adopted this exposure notification technology from Google and Apple. So we joined Western States packed following the state of Colorado and the state of Washington and statewide expansion. And we anticipate Oregon and others will go statewide soon. It's also really important to know this works across state lines. If you're a visiting one state and you get an exposure, you'll still get that notice when you return to your other state. Speaker 1: 06:15 So how do people actually get the CA notify app Speaker 2: 06:19 Apple iPhone users simply have to go into settings and find exposure notifications and turn it on for the state of California for users of Android smartphones. The Google play store has the CA notify app now. Speaker 1: 06:32 Okay. Then I've been speaking with Dr. Christopher Long Hearst, chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego health. Thank you so much for speaking with us Speaker 2: 06:43 So much for having me.

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On Thursday, Californians can turn on a new tool that will alert them if they've been exposed to someone later diagnosed with COVID-19. The technology was tested on the UC San Diego campus earlier this year.
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