AWS Public Sector Blog

Supporting a safe return to campus with cloud-based mobile applications

university campus with mountains in distance

Monitoring and tracking student and staff exposure to COVID-19 and reports of those experiencing known symptoms continues to be a critical part of school plans for remaining open this fall. Colleges and universities are creating and using mobile applications that can track users’ symptoms, record COVID-19 test results, get connected to medical resources, and help with contact tracing. Some of these mobile apps built by the university or an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner Network (APN) Partner use the cloud to securely handle this vital information.

A personalized, but private, approach

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Illinois), COVID-19 testing is mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff who plan to be on campus. The “Safer Illinois” app, downloaded by more than 44,000 people, provides users personalized coronavirus-testing results as soon as they’re available and reminders of scheduled testing. In addition, it displays their current testing status, which serves as one of the mechanisms to gain entry to university facilities. App users can manage their health and wellness through a self-assessment symptoms list, personalized tips for improving health and wellness, updates from local health authorities, and contact information for virtual-care teams. The app can also inform those who’ve come into close proximity with others who test positive for COVID-19, without ever tracking users’ locations. The exposure notification feature, which has surfaced more than 1,000 exposure notifications to-date, complements traditional contact tracing carried out by the local health department.

The Rokwire initiative, part of Illinois’ Smart, Healthy Community Initiative, developed the app. “When we developed Rokwire, we had a ‘privacy first’ approach,” said William Sullivan, professor and director, Smart, Healthy Community Initiative. “We made choices about the design of the Safer Illinois app that didn’t satisfy everyone, like the data modelers who wanted all the data possible. We err on the side of privacy because we absolutely needed people to trust that if they use the app that their data would be secure and we would never connect location data and health data. We used AWS to ensure we had a secure system that is updated regularly with the latest protocols for safety, security, and privacy.”

Studying the effectiveness of self-assessments

In collaboration with the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative (DDI), Vanderbilt University researchers developed MyCovidKey, a mobile-friendly web application that integrates a recurring COVID-19 self-assessment with semi-automatic contact tracing. During June and July, MyCovidKey was evaluated as part of a study to evaluate the utility and effectiveness of a digital contact tracing application in an on-campus setting. Throughout the six-week pilot, participants were asked to take a self-assessment every 48 hours that evaluates their risk for COVID-19. The participants were also asked to use the “key-in” feature to scan a unique barcode at over 70 different “scanning stations” when they enter specific locations on campus. Forty-five participants created MyCOVIDKey accounts over the duration of the study. These users performed 227 self-assessments and “keyed-in” 1,410 times at 48 unique locations. The MyCOVIDKey team is evaluating survey responses from their users to improve the usability of the application in preparation of a broader release in the near future.

Thomas Scherr, PhD, research assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University said, “Due to the nature of the pandemic, we needed a solution that could be put together quickly, had flexibility in how it was developed and deployed, and offered a stable production environment leading up to and after our launch. AWS had everything we needed, all in one stop.”

Quick response to evolving situations ensures campus safety and community trust

Appian, a member of the AWS Partner Network (APN), developed CampusPass™ in conjunction with colleges and universities like the University of South Florida (USF) and Dallas College. This solution centralizes and automates the components needed to safely return-to-campus and minimize the spread of COVID-19 on-campus.

CampusPass, available in the AWS Marketplace, helps higher education institutions make quick, informed decisions in response to health issues in college communities. Through voluntary self-reporting, it securely collects data about a campus and its people, including health data, test results, contact tracing data, incidents, and facilities information. Privacy and security of personal health information is secured through the HIPAA-compliant and HITRUST-certified Appian cloud, while also enabling The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance. Universities and colleges can fully configure what data is collected from their users. CampusPass enables institutions to comply with HIPAA, GDPR, and FERPA regulations. If a positive test result or other COVID-related incident arises, the app presents information to the campus’s response team so they can determine the best course of action, like disabling building access, contacting people who might have been exposed, ordering facility cleaning, and coordinating virus testing.

USF implemented CampusPass to centralize and automate key protocol components to safely bring more than 50,000 students and faculty members back to three campuses. The university configured the solution to meet their local regulations, with no technical skills or integrations required. The solution was up and running in hours, and deployed in days.

“The health and safety of students, faculty, and staff is our most important concern during this pandemic. Coordinating and communicating across all departments and tens of thousands of students poses a significant challenge for universities, and Appian is the platform that brings us all together safely and securely,” said Sidney Fernandes, chief information officer at USF. “As the COVID-19 situation evolves we have to evolve with it. Part of the reason we picked the solution is its flexible as the situation changes and if it does then we can change our approach and our workflow.”

At AWS, we are committed to helping higher education institutions and their partners better serve their students, staff, faculty and researchers with secure, scalable, and quickly deployable solutions to protect campuses today and into the future. And while we, like everyone else trying to solve this pandemic, don’t have all the answers, we are dedicated to deploying our services to help. Contact us to learn how AWS services can help your institution, and join us for an upcoming webinar to learn about a few specific services and solutions institutions are leveraging to support virtual learning and a safe return to campus.