COVID-19 contact tracing

What is contact tracing and how does it work?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contact tracing involves “identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and their contacts (people who may have been exposed) and working with them to interrupt disease transmission.”

The CDC supports contact tracing for “any individual within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes.” Because people infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus well before they develop symptoms, individuals will be asked to recall everyone they’ve been in contact with during the specific timeframe provided by health professionals.

Trained contact tracers who are required to follow all privacy regulations outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will help individuals arrange to isolate themselves to stop illness spread and will work to locate all who may have been exposed so that testing, symptom monitoring, and/or isolation can be arranged.


Why does WWU need to do contact tracing with an app?
Of course, we want to give all members of our campus family every opportunity to remain in good health. However, in order to support a face-to-face academic program and remain in community with one another, WWU needs to be able to act quickly and decisively to limit the spread of infection. 

We believe contact tracing through an app increases the likelihood that our fall quarter will not be interrupted by unidentified spread of COVID-19 and minimizes the chance of having to quarantine large groups of people. A strictly manual form of contact tracing takes many days to sort out and has a higher probability of missing impacted students, faculty, and staff.


Which app is Walla Walla University using for contact tracing?
After thorough review of several options the university chose the SaferMe service and mobile app. In addition to the app, SaferMe has a web-based feature that can be used as an alternative for those who don’t have access to a smart device.


What does the contact-tracing process look like at Walla Walla University? 
Students, faculty, and staff will complete a daily symptom self-evaluation form, and results will be visible to the WWU COVID-19 response director, a medical professional who is accountable under HIPAA regulations. When a respondent becomes symptomatic or directly reports illness to the director—such as elevated temperature or cough, for example—the director will work with the respondent to identify an appropriate response (ranging from isolation and monitoring to COVID-19 testing and/or immediate medical care).

Meanwhile, depending on the situation, the COVID-19 response director may determine that the respondent’s contacts—people they were within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more—may need to be contacted so that testing, symptom monitoring, and/or isolation can be immediately arranged to stop the spread of infection. For quick alert and assessment, the COVID-19 response director will consult the SaferMe app data to determine whom to contact. Contacts will not be told the name of the respondent who may have exposed them to COVID-19.

Walla Walla University will work closely with local health professionals and the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, also medical professionals accountable under HIPAA regulations, to assess risk and determine isolation/quarantine/care protocols. University staff and the WWU Care Team will provide assistance and support to those in isolation or quarantine.


How is information gathered?
Information is gathered via the SaferMe mobile app. This app provides a daily health self-evaluation questionnaire, which is completed and submitted each morning by all users of the service via their mobile devices.

The service then provides for accurate contact tracing via the mobile device’s built-in Bluetooth system. The SaferMe app records the proximity and length of time a mobile user’s device is near another user’s mobile device. The distinction between proximity and length-of-time data versus location data is important to note. SaferMe and WWU never stores or accesses location data about any user.

iPhone users can use the SaferMe contact-tracing function through Bluetooth with the mobile device GPS system turned off. While proximity detection can be aided by the iPhone GPS system, GPS is optional and only selected by the iPhone user.

Currently Android devices require the GPS system to be on in order for Bluetooth to function and thus for contact tracing to work.

Note: This information gathering is critical for assisting medical professionals in their efforts to accurately contact trace and notify potentially impacted users in a timely manner.

SaferMe never stores or accesses location data about any user on either iPhone or Android platforms and does not have access to location data for iPhone users who have the GPS function turned off.


What will WWU know about me? 
Once you sign up for the university SaferMe service, the WWU COVID-19 response director can see your name, email address, and the number of contacts between your mobile device and another university user’s mobile device that is using the SaferMe app. The length of exposure time is also viewable.

SaferMe never stores or accesses location data about any user on either iPhone or Android platforms and does not have access to location data for iPhone users who have the GPS function turned off. The service only identifies who you have been in close proximity to for the specified period of time.

All transmitted data is fully encrypted.

An individual’s personal information is considered confidential and will only be disclosed to appropriate parties as required by law or in emergency circumstances to protect the health or safety of the individual or other individuals. Any disclosure of an individual’s personal information will be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as applicable.

Neither the WWU Student Life office or Human Resources department will have access to contact-tracing information from the app or otherwise collected sources, and contact-tracing information will not be used in any discipline or investigative processes.


Who will see this data?
Once you sign up for the university SaferMe service, the WWU COVID-19 response director, a medical professional who is accountable under HIPAA regulations, can see your name, email address, and the number of contacts between your mobile device and another university user’s mobile device that is using the SaferMe app. The length of exposure time is also viewable.

An individual’s personal information is considered confidential and will only be disclosed to appropriate parties as required by law or in emergency circumstances to protect the health or safety of the individual or other individuals. Any disclosure of an individual’s personal information will be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as applicable.


How will data be secured? 
The data is encrypted when in transit from the mobile device to the SaferMe service.

Individual personal information is encrypted by a unique key for each user. All personal information is also anonymized by default. Deletion of a key deletes all personal information. 

SaferMe is hosted on premium infrastructure utilized by the world’s preeminent companies. SaferMe principally partners with Heroku and Amazon Web Services.


What will happen to this data?
Data older than 42 days is automatically deleted. The SaferMe service and app meets strict guidelines for data security, handling and deletion by the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A GDPR-certified vendor ensures that data is secure during transmission, encrypted and/or anonymized as much as possible while stored by the vendor, is not shared by third-party entities, and is erased upon completion of a contract. These guidelines provide greater privacy protections than are required in the United States. A user can request that their data be deleted at any time, and the SaferMe service will permanently delete the data.

Upon completion of using the SaferMe service, Walla Walla University will formally submit legal notification for SaferMe to permanently delete all WWU user records.


Where can I learn more about SaferMe and data privacy/security?
Please note the documentation titled “Data, Privacy and Security at SaferMe.”


If I uninstall the mobile app does my phone still trace me in somebody’s system?
Uninstalling the SaferMe mobile app completely removes the app and all data associated with it. There is no communication or transport of any data between the mobile device that has uninstalled the SaferMe mobile app and any entity that could have possibly used the SaferMe mobile app.


Are other colleges and universities using this service? 
SaferMe has traditionally been a service chosen by premier businesses and is in use by Fortune 500 companies. SaferMe has institutions of higher education in Europe and the United States coming online now, just like Walla Walla University, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Will I face investigation or disciplinary action if WWU discovers potential code-of-conduct or employee-handbook violations through SaferMe app data?
Data provided from the SaferMe app will only be used to quickly interrupt COVID-19 disease transmission. 

Neither Walla Walla University’s Student Life office or Human Resources department will have access to contact-tracing information from the app or otherwise collected sources, and contact-tracing information will not be used in any discipline or investigative processes.


What if I decline to trace my contacts?
Contact tracing is required of all WWU students, faculty, and staff as part of our 14-point prevention plan to be able to operate in a face-to-face model for fall quarter.

Contact tracing will be included in the university’s COVID-19 Interim Code of Conduct, which is part of an agreement required to be a student at Walla Walla University.

All WWU employees—including student employees—will be required to participate in contact tracing. If they do not have a smart device that is capable of using the app, WWU employees will need to still complete and submit daily symptom self-evaluations through a computer and maintain a written daily contact-tracing log that can be provided to the COVID-19 response director at any time upon request.

Declining to participate in contact tracing as indicated above may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including separation from the university.


Isn’t requiring contact tracing a violation of my rights?
Walla Walla University typically asks students, faculty, and staff to agree to a number of requirements and protocols, such as but not limited to our requirements for civility, standards for academic or professional performance, refraining from use of alcohol or drugs, and attending CommUnity and other required meetings. 

In return for the opportunity to participate on Walla Walla University’s campuses during this unprecedented pandemic and in the spirit of care for each other within our campus community, the university requires students, faculty, and staff to wear masks as directed, practice social distancing, take steps to ensure good hygiene, and actively participate in contact tracing in order to interrupt disease transmission. 


How does the information gathered by SaferMe compare to information gathered about me digitally from other companies?
A typical social-media account allows people to see more information about you than the SaferMe app. With the SaferMe app, very few people will see your information (under strict regulation by Walla Walla University), information is used only for COVID-19 contact tracing and is deleted after 42 days, GPS location identification is optional for iPhone users, and photos are not involved.

For only the time period it is in use by Walla Walla University, SaferMe reveals to the university’s COVID-19 response director:

  • Your name.
  • Your email address.
  • The number of contacts between your mobile device and another university user’s mobile device using the SaferMe app.
  • The length of exposure time. 

In comparison, your typical social-media profile can reveal:

  • Your name.
  • Education information.
  • Current and past occupations.
  • Relationship status.
  • Hometown and current residence location.
  • Physical address.
  • Your birth name.
  • Your personal website and other social links.
  • Photos of you, your family, relatives, and friends.
  • Locations you’ve visited (“check in”).
  • Your current location (by tracking the IP address of your phone, computer, and/or other devices used to access a particular server).
  • Political affiliations and preferences.
  • Membership in clubs and/or groups.
  • Your likes and dislikes.
  • Your personal contacts and networks.
  • Details revealed in posts or chats.

Your online shopping purchases can also reveal to marketers:

  • Your hobbies.
  • Your age.
  • Your spending habits and spending ranges over time.
  • Stores you frequent and prefer.
  • Types of products you prefer/frequently purchase.
  • Payment information.
  • What you plan to buy—“wish lists” or “save to cart” items.
  • Digital-content preferences based on your purchases and downloads.

Event Details

Shown in {{ timezone.name }}