UC Berkeley launches COVID-19 exposure notification system

Picture of smartphone with COVID app

The smartphone-based exposure notification system — California COVID Notify — launched for the UC Berkeley community Monday, Nov. 16. It’s a privacy-first approach to using technology to aid in COVID-19 contact tracing. (Photo by Patrick Holmes)

UC Berkeley has a new tool to help slow the spread of COVID-19: California COVID Notify. Once enrolled, participants will get an alert if they were exposed to COVID-19. 

Opting in to the system is easy. For iPhone users, the process involves upgrading to iOS version 14.2 and then turning on exposure notifications in settings. Android users download an app. Complete instructions for opting in on an iPhone and a private link to download the Android app are available on the California COVID Notify website.

Barcode to add CA COVI Notify app

The smartphone-based exposure notification system launched for the UC Berkeley community today (Monday, Nov. 16). California COVID Notify is built on the Exposure Notification System developed by Apple and Google. It’s a privacy-first approach to using technology to aid in contact tracing. A user’s identity is never revealed, and their location is never tracked. Instead, anonymous keys are exchanged using Bluetooth and not linked to a user’s identity or location. 

Several states in the U.S. and a number of foreign countries are already using the technology from Apple and Google. California COVID Notify is modeled after the SwissCovid app developed by Switzerland, which was the first country to use the technology. The configuration aligns with CDC guidelines and defines a close contact as being less than 6 feet apart for a cumulative 15 minutes in a 24-hour period.

The launch of California COVID Notify at UC Berkeley is part of a University of California pilot of the technology on behalf of the state of California. The hope is to soon expand availability to everyone in the state. The pilot began at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco earlier this fall and has been successful in slowing the spread of COVID-19 on those campuses. In addition to the UC Berkeley campus, the pilot is also expanding to UC Davis, UCLA, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and Berkeley Lab. 

This Google video describes the importance of public health COVID-19 apps like “California COVID Notify.” Exposure notifications systems help users know when they have been potentially exposed to coronavirus.

Smartphone-based exposure notification augments traditional contact tracing. It can speed the process of identifying close contacts and make it possible to notify unknown contacts. When someone tests positive for COVID-19, they’re provided with a PIN to enter into their phone. Anyone who may have been exposed then receives a notification with instructions to quarantine and to contact their health care provider. 

In order to avoid false positives, the technology uses Bluetooth signal strength and duration to automatically determine what qualifies as a potential exposure. UC San Diego reported very few instances of false positives during the initial pilot. 

California COVID Notify is another layer of protection for the UC Berkeley community. In addition to wearing a face covering, physically distancing, getting tested regularly and washing one’shands, opting in to exposure notifications is another way that students, staff and faculty can help slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus and in the community.