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How a new app is going to help keep UArizona students safe during pandemic

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TUCSON (KVOA) - University of Arizona Freshman Jasmine Hines has her own strategies for keeping safe and social distancing during this pandemic,

"I try to limit who I'm around, so I keep close to my family and friends I've known for a long time," said Hines.   

Now, it's becoming easier for thousands of students like Hines, since she can download the "Covid Watch" app, which issues alerts when someone nearby may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

"It's kind of like you don't really know who has COVID(-19), who doesn't until someone gets a test," Hines said. "So, everyone could have COVID(-19) for all I know until someone gets a test to prove that they are positive or are negative, so it will sway my decision on if I feel safe or not."

The app helps calculate a person's level of "exposure risk" by measuring the time of exposure to an infected person, the distance from an infected person and the point in the infection arc at which a user was exposed.

Joanna Masel is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the app's technology lead for UArizona.

"We're going to start with this app launched in a position where it's not going to issue too many notifications. We're going to see how it goes.  We're only going to notify those at higher risk, and then, we'll see how does that testing keeps up," Masel said. "We can test everyone who gets notified. And if we can, we can start notifying more people."

UArizona officials are saying what makes this app different than others around the world is that administrators make sure your personal information is protected. They said it is completely anonymous.

"We wanted to look into what are the more privacy-preserving versions of this - what is the most privacy-preserving way to perform contact tracing - and perform all these kind of notifications anonymously and in a decentralized way so that all the information is stored in your phone and doesn't have to collect any personally identifying information," Tina White, executive director of Covid Watch and UArizona alumna said.

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Paul Cicala

Paul Cicala is a 2-time winner of the prestigious”Edward R. Murrow Award” for his reporting/anchoring in news & sports. Paul Cicala has also been nominated for multiple EMMY’s. Cicala has won the “Best Sportscaster” category in Tucson the last 3 years (voted on by readers of “Tucson Weekly”). Cicala is a native Tucsonan who specialized in border stories during his earlier career as a news reporter in this market, and now concentrates mainly on sports stories (with an occasional special report and/or feature story on life in Tucson & the Sonoran Desert).

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