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Oregon State pilots contact tracing app ahead of statewide deployment

Andrew Hudson   ||   Nov 30, 2020  ||   ,

Oregon State University has partnered with the Oregon Health Authority to test a smartphone-based contact tracing system that notifies users about possible exposure to COVID-19. OSU is the latest in a number of university campuses to serve as a testing ground for a potentially statewide COVID notification app.

According to a report from The Register-Guard, Oregon State University faculty, staff and students can all elect to participate in the Oregon Exposure Notifications pilot before the app is made available to smartphone users across the state. OSU is following a now familiar trend of universities offering their campuses for COVID notification app pilots, following similar initiatives at Michigan State University and UC Davis.

The exposure notification system alerts users when they've been in close proximity to someone who may have exposed them to COVID-19. The system does not replace traditional contact tracing efforts, nor does it collect, share or reveal user locations or identity.

Apple and Google have collaborated to develop the privacy software that protects app participants. The COVID notification app disguises users' identity by generating a random sequence of numbers that change every few minutes. Then using Bluetooth, anytime a phone detects another nearby phone that's also opted into the program, the two will exchange the randomly generated numbers.

The Exposure Notifications system is embedded in Apple devices running iOS 13.7 or later, while Android devices require an app download. If a user reports that they have tested positive for COVID-19, the system will alert each user they made sustained contact with over the preceding 14 days.

Participants in the Oregon State pilot program who receive an exposure notification will also be invited to get a free follow-up COVID-19 test through TRACE-OSU, the university’s COVID-19 testing program.

Since launch, the Exposure Notifications system has amassed nearly 5,000 installs across the OSU campus community. The pilot program is expected to last four to six weeks, and provided the system is found to be helpful for public health efforts, there will be plans for statewide implementation.

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