University of Arizona releases COVID tracking app

Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 6:38 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona is rolling out their contact tracing app—just days after the first wave of students moved on campus.

“I think it’s a good idea to know you’ve come into contact with someone who had it,” said Amber Underdown, a UArizona graduate student.

Officially released Wednesday, Aug. 19, the COVID Watch app is the latest release in the university’s return-to-campus strategy—along with 160 manual contact tracers, on-site testing and more. It’s something the state could adopt later on depending on the success.

“We additionally have a number of technological tools that are going to help us analyze where crowds are building, help us understand the best way for people to move around campus,” said Joyce Schroeder, app’s development lead for University of Arizona with Covid Watch.

Using Bluetooth to communicate between phones, the app will anonymously notify someone if they’ve come into contact with a positive case, and what their next steps should be. The challenge, how many people, especially students will download the app.

“What matters is clusters of people. If your friends and your friends’ friends use the app, then you’re protected,” said Joanna Masel, the app’s technology lead for University of Arizona with Covid Watch.

Move-in day for the campus was just days ago, as some universities across the nation are already headed back online after COVID-19 outbreaks—Notre Dame reporting nearly 150 cases since on-campus learning started earlier this month. UArizona president Robert Robbins spoke about concerns on CNN Wednesday.

“If our students faculty and staff don’t follow the rules, we’re going to suffer the same fate as the other universities,” said Robbins.

With development and marketing, the app has cost UArizona about $1 million dollars. To urge more young people to download and use the app, the university hired a digital marketing firm to blast social campaigns. COVID Watch was developed in partnership with ADHS, and the state could use the app later on.

“The timing is still to be decided and will be dependent on the success of the pilot rollout,” said an ADHS spokesperson in a written statement.

NAU will be launching the COVID Watch App on Aug. 31, which the university said aligns with the start of in person classes and the completion of their phased move in.

“We have already informed key groups in our campus community that COVID Watch is coming but we will begin full promotion and communication efforts in the coming weeks. This will include instructions on how to download the app and specifics about what information they can expect when using the app. This is yet another critical tool as we all work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and state,” said an NAU spokesperson in a written statement.

“Starting in smaller communities, so we can demonstrate its effectiveness and then we can start easily translate those across the state,” said Sameer Halai, technology lead for Covid Watch.

According to ADHS, 61 percent of the state’s cases are people 44 or younger. If you’d like to download the app, click HERE.

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