Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic is one of our societies greatest challenges. Schools are an important part of the infrastructure of communities. To help protect the the health and safety of students and teachers, several schools have deployed a new cryptography-based technology for COVID-19 symptom screening, developed by a team of UCLA researchers in the Department of Computational Medicine.

Symptom screening is a widely utilized approach to make schools safer by requiring teachers and staff to verify that they are free from any common COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, or loss of smell before entering the school.   In addition, parent’s verify that their children are also not suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.  UCLA’s new methodology allows for this screening to be performed anonymously.

Individuals using UCLA’s web-based screener app provide information on their or their child’s current symptoms but not any identifying information. If they are symptom-free, they obtain a certificate that they can use to gain entry to the school. The certificate contains a cryptographic digital signature developed for this application by UCLA researchers. The digital signatures guarantee the authenticity of the certificate and provide information about the time when the screener was completed.  If symptoms are reported, the screener app provides current public health guidelines.  The same system can be used to symptom screen visitors coming to the school.

The UCLA screener app is intended to aid schools in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of students, teachers, other school staff, their families, and communities as they prepare for educating students this year. The key feature of the technology is the cryptographic algorithm, which allows for individuals to obtain certificates without entering any identifying information. This greatly simplifies deployment of the system as there are no complex privacy, cyber security and legal issues involved in deploying the system. 

El Sol Academy, a dual-immersion charter school, is currently deploying the technology on their campus as they reopen their facilities. Monique Daviss, Executive Director at El Sol, shares that their school “is a tight-knit community school located in a neighborhood that has had a high incidence of COVID-19. Therefore, it is important to El Sol that we have tools that are easy to use and that help us keep our school community safe.”

PS1 Pluralistic School has been using the app for a few months with their faculty and staff and this week, started using it with a small group of students returning to campus. Evelyn Cazun, Associate Director of Admissions, says, “The team that has worked with us on the screener app has been available and amazingly supportive.” 

“The tool works for us!” continues Daviss at El Sol Academy, “It keeps staff and families focused on symptoms and attentive to safety. It is easy to use and makes everyone feel protected. The fact that the tool was developed at UCLA means people trust that the science behind it is world class.”

It is important for any institution to engage in and encourage everyone to practice preventive behaviors that will support schools’ safe reopening and will help them stay open. It will also keep our communities safe. 

The system is now available for public use at:

https://stopcovid19together.org/daily

https://stopcovid19together.org/student

 

 

Media Contact: 

Leticia Ortiz | Marketing & Communications | Building a community around data science in biomedicine
leticiaortiz@mednet.ucla.edu​
@CompMedUCLA