UC Berkeley rolls out COVID-19 exposure app

UC Berkeley students are beginning to look to their smartphones to tell them if they've been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

"I think it's a great program.," said student Karen Chen. "It keeps me safe and everyone around me safe," added another student, Lucas Wylie.

Berkeley is one of seven UC campuses that have begun taking part in a pilot program that encourages, students, faculty, and staff to download what it calls the California COVID Notify App.

It tracks through Bluetooth, not GPS, whether one cell phone has come in contact with another cell phone whose user has tested positive for COVID-19.

"I signed up for it," said UC Berkeley infectious disease specialist Dr. John Swartzberg. He believes it can be a good early notification system. "If I'm in a grocery store for example and I've been close with someone who is also signed up, and that person is diagnosed with covid, they would notify me. That is how it is going to work."

The California Health Department is sponsoring the study.

Tens of thousands of people have joined the program that includes UC San Francisco and UC Davis along with many residents of Davis.

The app records all phones that have been closer than six feet or have spent 15 minutes or more with someone who tested positive.

"The more people you have, the more valuable the system becomes. It really relies on a large network of people participating," said UC Davis Project Director Katherine Kim.

If all goes, well, the program will extend beyond the University of California.

"We want this to be available to all residents of California. We want people in large cities and rural areas, small towns, to have the benefit of this," said Kim.

UC says it is not storing any personal information, and that no one should worry their privacy is being invaded.