Alabama’s contact tracing app expands capabilities, still very few have downloaded it

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If you leave Alabama for the holidays and you are one of the few with the free GuideSafe app, you could be notified of a COVID-19 exposure via a collective database that links other contact tracing apps together.

Some states have apps like GuideSafe and some do not. Medical professionals say the expanded capabilities of GuideSafe could be a game changer. However, just under 150,000 people have the app compared to more than 5 million people that call Alabama home.

UAB says roughly 380 positive COVID-19 tests have been reported through the app, raising questions about the effectiveness of Guidesafe which has used CARES Act funds to be developed.

“Every case of COVID-19 can infect between 2-3 and up to five people. We have to look at this as a win when we have a case identified and we have the ability to notify those people,” said Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

When you download GuideSafe, it never asks for access to your contacts or even your location. It’s all done through anonymous Bluetooth coding. Think of it as digital number sets that ping off of each other. Eventually it can lead to a notification of being in the vicinity of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“The Guidesafe exposure notification app does not ask for or collect personal or identifying information about you or others,” said Dr. Sue Feldman, a professor in the UAB Schools of Health Professions and Medicine.

Because UAB and the state went the anonymous route in developing this app, data surrounding the effectiveness of Guidesafe is minimal. When someone reports a positive case, your personal information is never stored or shared. Your personal data is never collected when setting up the app.

Medical experts say this tool in fighting COVID-19 will only work if people download it and exercise social responsibility.

“If people would download the exposure app, that just runs in the background. That is one single point of human behavior is to download it. It’s another point of human behavior to report their test through it,” said Dr. Feldman.

UAB experts say contact tracing is comes down to memory and being able to contact the people you may have exposed to the virus. Guidsafe is a tool that helps you stay anonymous while notifying the people you could never track down.

GuideSafe has been out since August and is in all app stores.


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