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Contact tracing at USC Aiken gets easier with new app

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 11:17 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - College campuses are becoming battlegrounds in the fight against coronavirus. Outbreaks are causing many of them to send students home, shut down sports or go online.

But the University of South Carolina at Aiken is launching a new way to keep track of COVID-19 on campus.

“The purpose of the app is to provide our contact tracing team with better data regarding who’s been in contact with whom, whether it’s in a classroom a conference room or some other public space around campus,” said Chris Clark, creator of a new app.

The university’s 17 contact tracers are responsible for tracking down anyone exposed to the virus, and the Pacer Tracer helps them do it.

“The app would kind of really expedite things for us and make things a lot easier,” said Brandon Aiken, a campus COVID-19 coordinator.

Here’s how it works: People scan in and out with a unique QR code placed outside of classrooms and shared areas. Then the Pacer Tracer collects the location and time the person was there.

“And then they’ll place me here and whoever else was in here at the same time. So, if one of us were infected then the contact tracers would know, 'Okay Chris was in here with these people. Let’s contact them,” Clark explained.

From Sept. 4-17, the university had a total of seven positive cases. Last week, only one isolation bed was in use.

“We’ve been very fortunate. Most of our contacts have been, you know, relatively small. And I think, it really speaks to our, campus community as a whole, about how they behaved as far as kind of keeping to our mitigation plan,” Aiken said.

And while use of the app is not required, the university is encouraging it.

“We’re relying on their choice to do this. Like I said, it doesn’t use GPS at all so it’s not sitting in the background logging everyone’s location. You have to actively scan a code to log your location. So, you know it’s really choice-driven, and it’s not big brother-ish,” Clark said, laughing.

The website, which can be used the same way on a cell phone, is up and running for students and staff to use now. The official app is still pending approval, but they expect it to be available soon.

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