UC San Diego launches smartphone-based COVID-19 exposure notification system

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Elizabeth Meckert breathed a small sigh of relief when her son, Andrew, a freshman at UC San Diego, set up his iPhone to let him know if he comes in contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19.



a person sitting at a picnic table: Luan Nguyen, left, a UC San Diego freshman, and his sister, Diep Nguyen, try out new COVID-19 exposure notification app. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)


© (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Luan Nguyen, left, a UC San Diego freshman, and his sister, Diep Nguyen, try out new COVID-19 exposure notification app. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

This digital heads-up is made possible with smartphone-based exposure notifications. California recently gave UC San Diego the go-ahead to test the technology, and the La Jolla university launched its pilot program on Thursday. Students like Andrew were quick to try it.

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“It makes me feel better to know that he’ll know right away if someone he’s come in contact with tests positive. It’s a little insurance policy,” said Elizabeth Meckert. She traveled to the campus from Lake Oswego, Ore., to help her son move into his dorm. “It’s scary enough sending your freshman away to college this far away, but with COVID, it makes it even scarier.”

University officials hope the cellphone technology will help them avoid the type of coronavirus chaos that has left more than 933 infected at San Diego State University.

It’s a scene that has played out at colleges across the nation, where tens of thousands of cases have occurred. This week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that Americans in their 20s now account for more COVID-19 cases than any other age group. The same is true in San Diego County, where the 20-29 age group accounts for 25% of cases.

The UC San Diego program will be built upon Apple and Google’s exposure notification system, which uses Bluetooth technology to warn an individual when they’ve come