University of Illinois 'Safer Illinois' app could notify users of COVID-19 exposure in minutes

URBANA, Ill. (WLS) -- A unique new app by developers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign could boost contact tracing efforts by quickly notifying students, faculty and staff if they have been exposed to COVID-19.

"The advantage is, it's so much faster," said William Sullivan, professor and director of the Smart, Healthy Community Initiative at U of I. "As soon as a person that you've been associated with or in close contact with has tested positive, if they've got the app and they've opted in their information is going to get sent up to 'the cloud' and 15 minutes later it's going to come to your phone and you're going to know, 'Oh my goodness I may have been exposed.'"

Sullivan also leads the "Safer Illinois" app initiative, and said the app uses results from mandatory twice-a-week COVID-19 campus testing and anonymous location data from app users, all while protecting users' privacy.

"We've created this way of identifying phones through this anonymous data that's not tied to any individual," he explained. "The app doesn't collect any location data, it doesn't store any location data, and no location data ever leaves a person's phone from Safer Illinois."

The Safer Illinois app also serves as mechanism for people to gain entry to university facilities based on up-to-date negative results.

"That feature is designed not only to encourage people to participate in the testing protocol but it also gives everybody else confidence that the people in the building around them have recently tested negative," Sullivan said.

The hope is that by notifying people about possible exposure faster, people will also get help and take steps to protect others faster.

"And in doing so we might use ourselves as a laboratory for how a community can solve this problem," Sullivan said. "So that other communities can do the same thing."
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