The University of Kansas has partnered with a health app pilot program in an effort to make the transition back to in-person classes as safe as possible in the fall.
CVKey is an app that will monitor the health and possible symptoms of personnel on KU’s campus before entering a building. Co-founder and research professor Brian McClendon believes the app is critical to the reopening of almost everything after a lockdown.
“We needed to figure out how to go back to work safely,” McClendon said. “We looked at the issues, and obviously, in general, I think contact tracing is the most important thing but there’s plenty of people working on that."
"So we chose to look at other things that we can build to help communities like KU and Douglas County and counties around the country reopen and communicate their policies,” McClendon continued.
The app has two parts: policy communication and health status/verification. For policy communication, all required protocols for an individual to enter a building are listed within the app for a student or professor to view before arriving on campus.
The health verification side of the app will ensure that anyone who enters a building has no risk factors of COVID-19 before they are allowed inside.
As KU moves closer to welcoming students for the fall semester, Student Housing has been forced to adapt policies and procedures in order to ensure student safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.
There is a symptom checker feature of the app that will ask symptom and exposure questions to be used daily. If individuals answer that they are without symptoms and have not been exposed to the virus, the app will generate a QR code that grants them access to buildings. The hope is to encourage students to answer honestly by being prompted multiple times.
“It’s impossible to know if somebody is lying, but we’ve made a lot of efforts to hope that they tell the truth,” McClendon said. “Our app is effectively asking you to attest three times that you’re telling the truth.”
Support of the students who will be responsible for using it is necessary to make the app effective. Cat Simmons, a junior from Olathe, said she believes the app will be faced with some backlash when presented to the student body.
“It just feels so unfair because we’re paying all this money to take these classes and now we’re not even able to go to them,” Simmons said. “I honestly think most people in general just care about themselves and their schedules and what they need to be doing, so if they’re sick, they’re going to lie.”
The app has been designed strategically to keep all information entered in the app private. Any health status information within the app does not leave an individual’s phone, making the app more appealing than others that may be using a different approach.
“The QR code you generate is not a QR code of your health status, it's a QR status to get you into the building,” McClendon said. “It means your health status is good enough to get in the building, but it doesn’t actually transmit your health status, it doesn’t say anything about you.”
If an individual chooses for any reason to not use the app, KU will provide a paper questionnaire that will act similarly to CVKey. It will be handed out at the door and need to be filled out each time they enter a building.
An additional alternative that has yet to be implemented is an online version of the survey in which individuals can print out a QR code that will be valid as long as the survey has been taken less than 24 hours prior.
“At the moment, [KU] actually has a person in front of every door scanning with their phone,” McClendon said. “Our plan is to have a kiosk that everybody walks by on their way in and we believe that will be fast enough.”
The success of the app is completely up to the user and the technology’s continued functionality. With KU planning to hold in-person classes this fall, CVKey will be implemented to hold individuals responsible for keeping the environment safe.
CVKey’s function is to remind members of the KU community of their responsibility in following the regulations in place for the good of the University. With an estimated shelf life of about two years, the hope is that it is effective enough in Lawrence to go global.
“We built this app to be used by a billion people, and the folks at KU are the first, but we intend to get as many people as we can to use it,” McClendon said. “Within the KU community, everybody that is getting into buildings right now is using it and I think if the KU pilot goes well, they hope that everyone on campus will be using it in all cases.”