California COVID Notify Pilot Program

UC San Francisco and UC San Diego are working with the State of California to pilot California COVID Notify, a smartphone-based system developed by Google and Apple that sends users an alert when they’ve had a high-risk exposure to COVID-19.

Starting Sept. 30, 2020, students, faculty and staff at UCSF, UCSF Health and Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland can choose to participate in the CA COVID Notify pilot program. By participating, users will help public health experts learn more about exposure notification technology and its potential for helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. The results and lessons learned from the pilot will help the state determine whether to make the technology available to all Californians.

Please note that at this time the CA COVID Notify pilot program is not open to the general public or those whose primary affiliation is with UCSF Fresno, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital or San Francisco VA Health Care System.


User Privacy

The state selected Google Apple Exposure Notification technology as the basis for CA COVID Notify because it was developed with user privacy in mind. CA COVID Notify never collects, stores or transmits users’ location data or any personal information. Participation is entirely voluntary, and users can opt in or out at any time.

For more information about the measures in place to protect the privacy of CA COVID Notify users, see the California Department of Public Health CA COVID Notify privacy policy.

How It Works

  • When users enable CA COVID Notify on an iPhone or Android smartphone, their device will generate and transmit an anonymous key (long strings of random characters) over low-energy background Bluetooth. Keys cannot be used to identify users or any personally identifiable information, and they do not use GPS to track location. Keys change every 10 to 20 minutes to further preserve privacy.
  • When users carry their phone with them and are near another CA COVID Notify-enabled phone, their phones will automatically exchange anonymous keys. This is a passive process that functions without requiring any app to be open, and it begins only after users opt in. CA COVID Notify does not drain a smartphone’s battery or use cellular data.
  • A user’s phone will record the date that an anonymous key was received, the duration of the signal, and the distance between the two devices (using Bluetooth signal strength to estimate distance). The anonymous keys that a user’s phone receives are stored on their phone for 14 days, then automatically deleted.
  • Several times a day, a user’s phone downloads a list of all anonymous keys associated with verified positive COVID-19 cases, and checks them against the list of anonymous keys their phone has encountered in the last 14 days.
  • If a key associated with a verified COVID-19 case matches a key that a user’s phone received from another user, the system runs a mathematical calculation developed by epidemiologists that uses the date, duration, and signal strength to assess the user’s level of risk.
  • Users will be notified of an exposure if the calculation meets the risk threshold. If a user receives a notification, that person will have the option of being directed to a UCSF website that will provide instructions on what to do next and how to keep them and the people around them safe. Users are encouraged to carefully read and follow the guidance provided.

Sharing a Positive COVID-19 Diagnosis

If a user tests positive for COVID-19, the UCSF COVID-19 Hotline will provide the user with a verification code. Users can opt-in and choose to enter the verification code into the CA COVID Notify system. Once a user enters the verification code, which confirms their positive COVID-19 test result, that user can choose to allow the anonymous keys that their phone generated to be uploaded to a server that will send exposure notifications to other users. The verification code is required to ensure that only anonymous keys of someone with a confirmed positive COVID-19 diagnosis are shared.

When other users are notified, they will receive a message that they have had a possible COVID-19 exposure. The message includes the date that the possible exposure occurred. Though the positive user’s identity, location and phone number are never shared, it may be possible to guess their identity based on the exposure date.

Add to Your Smartphone

CA COVID Notify is available to users of iPhone or Android smartphones, but the way it works on each platform is different. Please note that Bluetooth must be turned on for users to use CA COVID Notify regardless of what type of smartphone people use.

Download the CA COVID Notify App on Android

If a person has an Android phone, the CA COVID Notify app can be downloaded from Google Play. Please note that since CA COVID Notify is in its pilot phase, the app is not available to the public on Google Play and cannot be found by searching the Google Play store. To download, users must use the link provided.

Activate CA Notify on iPhone (Requires iOS 13.7 or later)

To participate in the CA COVID Notify pilot, users will be asked to install a file on their iPhone called a “profile.” Only iPhones that have the profile installed will be able to activate CA COVID Notify. To install the profile and activate CA COVID Notify:

  1. Download the pilot profile
    1. Click to download the profile on Safari on your iPhone
    2. Choose iPhone when it asks where to install
  2. Install the pilot profile
    1. Go to Settings > General > Profile (note that, instead of “Profile” it might appear as “Profiles & Device Management”)
    2. Tap on the profile ENX California Pilot Configuration
    3. Tap Install
    4. Enter your iPhone passcode and tap Install again
  3. Enable Exposure Notifications
    1. Go to Settings > Exposure Notifications > Turn on Exposure Notifications
    2. Tap Continue and select United States > California
    3. Complete CA COVID Notify Onboarding

To verify that exposure notifications are enabled on an iPhone, go to Settings > Exposure Notifications. If notifications are enabled, users should see that the Exposure Logging Status is set to Active and there will be a green checkmark next to it. Users do not need to enable Availability Alerts on their iPhone in order for CA COVID Notify exposure notifications to work. Enabling Availability Alerts will let users know if they are in a region that is using the exposure notification tool, but is not necessary for receiving notifications.

Please note that by installing the profile, users will allow “logs” to be stored on their phone. Logs can help troubleshoot and resolve any problems users discover during the course of the pilot if they choose to share them. Logs include information like the timing of the Bluetooth scans and server configuration values. Logs do not include information related to the anonymous keys that a user’s device exchanges with other devices, information about exposure notifications a person may have received, or information related to sharing a positive diagnosis. Logs stay on a user’s phone and aren’t accessible to UCSF, Apple or the State of California unless that person chooses to share them. For further assistance with profile installation or logs, please call the UCSF Service Desk at (415) 514-4100.

Take the CA COVID Notify survey to tell us about your experience installing and activating CA COVID Notify on your smartphone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and concerns about the CA COVID Notify pilot program at UCSF should be sent to [email protected].