How does society establish a new normal during a pandemic?
A key approach involves contact tracing, in which public health officials alert anyone potentially exposed to a newly diagnosed patient within the past 14 days, the incubation period for COVID-19.
Contact tracing can be done with teams of public health officials, relying on a patient’s known contacts. Or it can be done with technology, alerting both known and unknown contacts, such as someone walking by at a grocery store.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bilal Khan has developed a technology solution: a software application system that is ready to pilot. He is working with NUtech Ventures, the university’s commercialization affiliate, to find a community partner for implementation.
“Without technology, there is no efficient way to inform contacts who were passively exposed at a public place,” said Khan, Happold Professor of Sociology and professor of computer science and engineering. “We also want to give people a richer, more personalized stream of data about how much risk they are taking on—which will help them make decisions about balancing their health risk with their economic risk.”
The software system was originally developed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study how human interactions—specifically, physical proximity to others—affect public health attitudes and behavior, as part of a sociology research project funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Now, five years later, we have this system that already exists and doesn’t need to be designed and built from scratch,” Khan said. “That’s the fortuitous coincidence. Our goal is to leverage it and quickly put something into use.”
Users who download the app are assigned an anonymized identification number; it protects privacy by avoiding any connection to personal data, such as names or phone numbers. The system then uses location and Bluetooth