California has always been at the forefront of developing new technologies and software that improve, change and sometimes save lives. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, tech innovators teamed up to develop a new program that would allow Californians to receive notifications notifying them if they came into contact with someone testing positive for the virus. CA Notify was born.
California Notify is a breakthrough application that exists at the intersection of public health, technology and public policy. It was developed by researchers at UC San Diego Health, The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the California Department of Technology (CDT).
The CA Notify app was first developed and piloted out of UC San Diego and subsequently expanded to the students and staff at UC San Francisco, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Riverside. In December of 2020, with the help of UCSD Health, CDT and CDPH— CA Notify launched statewide for all California residents to freely download and utilize. IPhone users who activate the app in their iPhone settings, or Androids users who download the CA Notify app, will automatically begin exchanging random, non-identifying codes via their phone’s Bluetooth. Suppose a CA Notify app user tests positive for COVID-19— the positive users will receive a code that they can plug in that will automatically alert anyone who has been within 6 feet of contact for more than 15 minutes. Users in close proximity will receive a notification that they have been exposed to COVID-19. This rapid alert system is critical in slowing the spread of COVID-19 because it gives people the information and agency to test & isolate themselves away from others quickly. Notably, the app allows all users to remain private. It assures anyone, whether they are the COVID-19 positive patient or the person receiving notifications of exposure, that their identity and personal health information has not been shared with anyone in the process.
Due to its critical role in establishing the CA Notify app, UC San Diego Health is partnering with the state to continue to provide infrastructure and support for the notification system. Support includes a call center and a public website. The call center will answer questions about the mobile tools and how they work on Google and Apple devices. Call center representatives and the website provides support in multiple languages, including Spanish and Chinese.
While the CA Notify app was developed for a once-in-a-generation pandemic, it is a groundbreaking model of innovation in practice. Perhaps most importantly, it has saved an untold number of lives by alerting individuals that they may have been exposed and urging them to get tested or quarantine.
Photo credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Communications