Many U.S. universities are likely to strongly encourage the use of COVID-19 contact tracing apps for on-campus students and staff. In fact, several institutions of higher learning are already at work on the apps and rules for physically returning to school using Apple’s and Google’s contact tracing (exposure notification) APIs.
The University of Alabama will require students and staff returning to its three campuses in the coming months to submit online health checks regularly and encourage them to download its contact tracing app, officials told Reuters on Thursday.
Researchers at several dozen U.S. universities are developing mobile apps that aim to curb new infections of the novel coronavirus, but Alabama is one of the first U.S. school systems to move forward on deploying such an app.
Students and employees will be reminded to sign into a website with their school login credentials every three days and report whether they have any symptoms related to COVID-19, the sometimes deadly respiratory illness caused by the virus.
Those reluctant to fill it out may be asked to stay away from campus, but an official enforcement system has not been finalized, said Selwyn Vickers, dean of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) school of medicine.
The contact tracing mobile app, which is being built by Birmingham-based software developer MotionMobs, will use programming code released on Wednesday by Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google that notifies people who were near users reporting as virus-positive.
Its use will not be required because some phones cannot operate the app, and Apple and Google also set rules preventing institutions and the state from making it mandatory, said Sue Feldman, director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB.
MacDailyNews Take: According to a study published on March 31, 2020 in Science, an adoption rate between of around 60% of the total population is needed for digital contact tracing apps to be effective. In countries where such apps have been made voluntary, even in Singapore with a compliant citizenry, the adoption rate remained below 20%. Perhaps Universities will have better adoption rates with a population that remains largely on campus and can be reminded often to use digital contact tracing apps.
At the very least, and perhaps the primary impetus for the creation of these apps at universities and everywhere else, is that the existence of such apps relieve universities and everyone else from LIABILITY under the law. Look at digital contact tracing apps as a buffer for getting back to school, work, leisure activities, sports, travel, etc. without the fear of being sued.
Schools, restaurants, airlines, retailers, everyone will be able to say: “The apps exist. Not our fault if too few people use them. Get well soon, as do 99.72% (99.91% under age 65) of people who contract COVID-19!”
This is the real reason why digital contact tracing apps exist: Absolvement of legal liability.