University of Alaska Anchorage launches app to alert users of potential COVID-19 exposures

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 4:19 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The University of Alaska Anchorage has created an alert app called Alaska COVID ENX.

According to Kenrick Mock, Professor of Computer Science and Dean of the College of Engineering for University of Alaska Anchorage, the app anonymously shares and alerts you if someone you’ve been in contact with has been exposed to COVID-19.

“If someone installs the app on Android or enables it on iPhone, then when those phones are near each other, they exchange these random codes,” Mock explained, “and the phones store those codes for up to 14 days. So what happens is, if someone later tests positive then if that person opts to share their diagnosis, it doesn’t share their actual information it just shares that, ‘Hey, I tested positive.’ Then the other phones that had those random codes can be notified. So, people can find out that, ‘Hey, possibly I was exposed to COVID-19.’”

By sending random code between users within exposure requirements, the app can alert users if someone they’ve been around has potentially exposed them.

“The definition of exposure is, using the Bluetooth signal’s strength, someone that was within about six feet for about 15 minutes is considered an exposure,” Mock elaborated. “So if there was a very short, you know, ‘We passed each other in the hallway,’ that doesn’t count. It really has to be two people who were kind of close together, at least their phones were kind of close together, for some extended period of time. It’s all anonymous, there’s no notification of if it was this person or that person’s phone, it was just someone that was near you for this time tested positive for COVID-19.”

By alerting residents ahead of time of potential exposures, this app can be vital to preventing further infections of COVID-19.

“The university’s in a position where we have the resources to make it happen,” Mock continued. “We have the epidemiologists, and the computing expertise, and the communications folks. Part of our mission is to help support the state and be a good community partner, and this is one way we can do that.”

Currently, Alaska COVID ENX is available on iOS in the settings and can be activated at any time. For Android, an app is expected to be available for download from the Google Play Store by January 18th. More information on Alaska COVID ENX can be found at its website.

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