KU uses new app to safely reopen campus

Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 3:09 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - The University of Kansas is using a new app to safely and responsibly reopen campus after COVID-19 closures.

The University of Kansas says a successful pilot project, it will be reopening campus to students, faculty and staff by requiring them to use a mobile health app to monitor symptoms of COVID-19 before allowing entrance into campus buildings.

KU says the app was created by CVKey Project which is a nonprofit initiative co-founded by former Google vice president Brian McClendon who is a KU alumnus and a research professor in the School of Engineering. It says it was the first community to test the app, but project officials are in talks to expand the service to other universities and organizations.

“The goal was how we can build tools that will allow the world to reopen responsibly,” McClendon said. “That’s our focus.”

According to the school, users of the app have the option to conduct a self-assessment of their COVID-19 health status at home and then generate a QR code to verify access to campus buildings, and to know that others have done the same.

KU says by using the app, students and staff do not have to disclose personal health information. It says the self-assessment and health-related information are confined to the user’s own mobile device and no personal health data can be shared or stored outside the device. It says the only information the QR code provides is a simple yes or no indication of whether a person’s health assessment meets the criteria to enter buildings that day and cannot be used for other functions like location tracking or contact tracing.

The Unversity says as well as providing a safeguard for users of campus buildings the app also provides an early warning to those that may have symptoms of coronavirus. It says the apps symptom checker is updated regularly according to the CDC’s most current guidelines and the advice of the project’s Council of Experts.

“That is the plan — that the app will guide people who have symptoms or exposure to follow up with Watkins Health Services, follow up with testing, follow up with a doctor to find out what’s going on,” McClendon said.

KU says the app was tested in six of its buildings over the summer, allowing researchers to access their laboratories.

McClendon says over 500 scans were performed each day during the pilot project and at first users presented their codes to a staffer at the building entrance, but staffers will be replaced by iPad kiosks by the beginning of the school year and will be used on almost all of KU’s buildings.

The school says DVKey is designed to overcome the fear of privacy issues which challenges the adoption of similar health-tracking apps. It says efforts in Utah and North Dakota used GPS-enabled contact tracing apps and failed due to privacy concerns.

McClendon says he testified about the issue in July before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.

“The biggest one was fear that either ‘big gov’ or ‘big tech’ was tracking anyone who installed it,” he told the committee.

McClendon says with CVKEy his team built the app focused on privacy. He says the technical design overview gives the overall design of the project and the privacy application specification shows the privacy architecture underpinning the app suite that was developed with input from other experts.

“We’ve done a lot of work to design a system that does not leak data or allow people to be tracked,” McClendon said. “We think that’s going to be important to marketers and consumers.”

KU says administrators will also be able to use the app to more consistently communicate and manage COVID-19 protocols and update them as needed.

“People who are going to one of these places can know what the policies are before they go there,” McClendon says.

McClendon says as vice president at Google he led teams that built Google Earth, Google Maps, Local Search, Streetview and other tools used by billions of people worldwide. He says as the cofounder of CVKey Project, he has put together a team of experts in public health, technology and privacy to help communities around the world reopen responsibly. He says the team is making the app’s source code available so other developers can examine or download it upon request.

KU says the CVKey Project Council of Experts includes Kathleen Sebelius, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Kansas governor, Allen Greiner, professor and vice-chair of family medicine at KU Medical Center and the medical officer for the Kansas City Wyandotte County Unified Government Health Department and Perry Alexander, KU AT&T Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and director fo the KU Information and Telecommunication Technology Center.

McClendon says he believes the smart use of technology can help the school manage the challenges of continuing education during the pandemic.

“If we don’t do all we can do,” McClendon says, “we’ll always be in a cycle of wave and close, wave and close.”

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