Alabama-created GuideSafe partners with Pathcheck and National Key Server in global fight against COVID-19
The University of Alabama at Birmingham on Nov. 19 announced its partnership with the PathCheck Foundation, founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to include the university’s anonymous and encrypted COVID-19 exposure verification technology created for GuideSafe in PathCheck’s own exposure notification app. The partnership will enable other states and countries to best leverage the Google Apple Exposure Notification app as the nation and world continue to develop tools for tackling the pandemic.
“Several states have expressed interest in using the verification technology we developed as part of our GuideSafe multitool platform through the PathCheck platform, and we are delighted to be able to provide this exposure verification technology to help make it easier for other states to resolve problems we have already solved,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB. “Our hope is that this is just the beginning of the expansion of the use of the UAB-created technology, and that it will be available to everyone very soon.”
GuideSafe – a multitool platform developed by a team of experts at UAB to combat COVID-19 – launched its exposure notification app in Alabama in August. To date, more than 150,000 Alabamians have downloaded the app with a total of 375 positive COVID-19 notifications generated statewide.
PathCheck’s platform has been adopted for official apps in five U.S. states and territories, and three nations. PathCheck will work with jurisdictions to provide UAB’s verification code innovation.
The intellectual property for these innovations is being offered by UAB nonexclusively to other states, and more are anticipated to join soon.
“We are excited to bring UAB’s innovation to other states and countries as we seek ways to help us all navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ramesh Raskar, associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences, director of the Program on Distributed and Private Machine Learning at MIT and founder of the PathCheck Foundation.
PathCheck Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization working to build digital solutions for public health through open source software, standards and public health programs that help contain the pandemic, restart the economy and protect individual freedom and privacy.
Releasing the GuideSafe exposure verification technology to PathCheck will have a direct benefit on Alabamians, said Brian Rivers, associate vice president and chief technology officer at UAB.
“By allowing other states to use the verification technology, if Alabamians who utilize the GuideSafe app are exposed to people from other states who are also using the PathCheck app, that exposure notification would work in those cases and both parties would be notified,” Rivers said. “You don’t have to have both apps on your phone. If you’re an Alabamian, all you need is the GuideSafe app.”
Considering that PathCheck has already been adopted by five states, other territories and countries, this partnership – in which UAB offers the verification intellectual property nonexclusively to others – helps PathCheck to work more broadly to provide a more streamlined method of exposure verification that does not involve human intervention.
Supported by federal coronavirus relief funding, the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App was built by UAB with support from Birmingham-based MotionMobs in active collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and integrating Google and Apple’s Exposure Notification System.
The technology protects personal privacy and data while anonymously alerting a user of possible exposure to someone who later tests positive for COVID-19. GuideSafe app notifications can arm users with information needed to quarantine or seek testing and treatment – all while guarding user privacy.
For more information and a list of GuideSafe Exposure Notification App-specific FAQ’s, visit guidesafe.org.
GuideSafe meshes with National Key Server for better protection
Beginning today, every Alabamian using the GuideSafe app for ongoing COVID-19 exposure and monitoring received an extra layer of protection as the app synchronized with the Association of Public Health Laboratories National Key Server.
By connecting with the National Key Server, the GuideSafe app will be able to download codes or “keys” from all other states with an exposure notification app on the National Key Server. It will enable GuideSafe users to continually benefit from exposure notifications as they travel across state lines to other states that have connected their technology to the National Key Server.
“Many states rolled out their own exposure notification app with keys on multiple, unlinked servers by state agencies, which made it difficult to send exposures for interactions between individuals using apps from different states,” UAB’s Feldman said. “This interoperability gap was solved by the APHL’s creation of a National Key Server. It will allow more streamlined interoperability of exposure notifications between the Alabama Department of Public Health and other state agencies, creating a tremendous benefit to GuideSafe app adopters.”
GuideSafe participates in Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification System (ENS), and the APHL helps deliver that groundbreaking technology to public health agencies across the United States. An essential element of exposure notifications is a unified digital language for communication, or exposure notification “keys.” Rather than having each state and territorial public health agency bear the burden of building and hosting its own key server, a national key server, hosted by APHL on the Microsoft Azure Cloud, securely hosts the keys of those affected users. This enables exposure notifications throughout the country by ensuring that users can find out when they may have been exposed by users from other states.
“The ability to connect to the National Key Server is yet another remarkable achievement to help guide, protect and inform the people of Alabama,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the ADPH. “The free GuideSafe app gives anyone with a smartphone the power to inform ourselves and those around us of potential exposure to COVID-19 safely and securely. To be able to do this now while traveling to the District of Columbia and 12 other states – with more states to come as more are added to the national server – gives each one of us who use GuideSafe additional information, which means it gives each of us as individuals additional power as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”
When someone downloads the GuideSafe app and then tests positive for COVID-19, they can upload their positive test through the app, which then notifies the ADPH. Subsequently, if you were within 6 feet of a person for 15 minutes or more who tested positive – and that person reports their positive test to the app – the ADPH will notify you through the GuideSafe app that you have had a potential exposure. By connecting to the National Key Server, that notification is now extended beyond Alabama.
“The beauty of the app is that it knows to alert you because it exchanged keys with the now-infected person, who also downloaded the app and reported his or her positive case,” Rivers said. “Now that GuideSafe is connected to the National Key Server, it can exchange these keys with other Google and Apple exposure notification technologies created by other states that are also connected to the server so that those who may have been exposed to the virus find out as quickly – and securely – as possible.”
Alabama was an early adopter of exposure notification technology. The Alabama Department of Public Health tapped UAB to design an exposure notification app as part of Gov. Kay Ivey’s efforts to provide a robust platform of COVID-19 testing, symptom monitoring and exposure. Ivey directed $30 million of federal relief money for the initiative, and GuideSafe was among the first exposure notification technologies available in the United States when it launched Aug. 17.
“We are excited for Alabamians that we have proactively created this tool, GuideSafe, that puts us on the front end of helping people confidently regain mobility across states in our nation,” said Rajesh Pillai, director of Identity and Access Management and Integrations Enterprise at UAB and key collaborator from the university with the APHL. “If we are following evidence-based pandemic health protocols that we know work – masking, maintaining social distance, washing hands frequently – and utilizing GuideSafe, it should give us an extra element of confidence as individuals. And if we are notified by the app that we have a potential exposure, it gives us vital information that enables us as citizens to act in a responsible manner and protect our immediate community.”
For more information and a list of GuideSafe Exposure Notification App-specific FAQs, see guidesafe.org.
This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)