1 week ago

Alabama-created GuideSafe partners with Pathcheck and National Key Server in global fight against COVID-19

COVID-19 is a global problem but three major pieces of technology – the GuideSafe app, the Pathcheck platform and the National Key Server – are now the world’s “triple threat” for preventing exposure to and the spread of the disease.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham on Nov. 19 announced its partnership with the PathCheck Foundation, founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to include the university’s anonymous and encrypted COVID-19 exposure verification technology created for GuideSafe in PathCheck’s own exposure notification app. The partnership will enable other states and countries to best leverage the Google Apple Exposure Notification app as the nation and world continue to develop tools for tackling the pandemic.

“Several states have expressed interest in using the verification technology we developed as part of our GuideSafe multitool platform through the PathCheck platform, and we are delighted to be able to provide this exposure verification technology to help make it easier for other states to resolve problems we have already solved,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB. “Our hope is that this is just the beginning of the expansion of the use of the UAB-created technology, and that it will be available to everyone very soon.”

GuideSafe – a multitool platform developed by a team of experts at UAB to combat COVID-19 – launched its exposure notification app in Alabama in August. To date, more than 150,000 Alabamians have downloaded the app with a total of 375 positive COVID-19 notifications generated statewide.

PathCheck’s platform has been adopted for official apps in five U.S. states and territories, and three nations. PathCheck will work with jurisdictions to provide UAB’s verification code innovation.

The intellectual property for these innovations is being offered by UAB nonexclusively to other states, and more are anticipated to join soon.

“We are excited to bring UAB’s innovation to other states and countries as we seek ways to help us all navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ramesh Raskar, associate professor of Media Arts and Sciences, director of the Program on Distributed and Private Machine Learning at MIT and founder of the PathCheck Foundation.

PathCheck Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization working to build digital solutions for public health through open source software, standards and public health programs that help contain the pandemic, restart the economy and protect individual freedom and privacy.

Releasing the GuideSafe exposure verification technology to PathCheck will have a direct benefit on Alabamians, said Brian Rivers, associate vice president and chief technology officer at UAB.

“By allowing other states to use the verification technology, if Alabamians who utilize the GuideSafe app are exposed to people from other states who are also using the PathCheck app, that exposure notification would work in those cases and both parties would be notified,” Rivers said. “You don’t have to have both apps on your phone. If you’re an Alabamian, all you need is the GuideSafe app.”

Considering that PathCheck has already been adopted by five states, other territories and countries, this partnership – in which UAB offers the verification intellectual property nonexclusively to others – helps PathCheck to work more broadly to provide a more streamlined method of exposure verification that does not involve human intervention.

Supported by federal coronavirus relief funding, the GuideSafe Exposure Notification App was built by UAB with support from Birmingham-based MotionMobs in active collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and integrating Google and Apple’s Exposure Notification System.

The technology protects personal privacy and data while anonymously alerting a user of possible exposure to someone who later tests positive for COVID-19. GuideSafe app notifications can arm users with information needed to quarantine or seek testing and treatment – all while guarding user privacy.

For more information and a list of GuideSafe Exposure Notification App-specific FAQ’s, visit guidesafe.org.

GuideSafe meshes with National Key Server for better protection

Beginning today, every Alabamian using the GuideSafe app for ongoing COVID-19 exposure and monitoring received an extra layer of protection as the app synchronized with the Association of Public Health Laboratories National Key Server.

By connecting with the National Key Server, the GuideSafe app will be able to download codes or “keys” from all other states with an exposure notification app on the National Key Server. It will enable GuideSafe users to continually benefit from exposure notifications as they travel across state lines to other states that have connected their technology to the National Key Server.

“Many states rolled out their own exposure notification app with keys on multiple, unlinked servers by state agencies, which made it difficult to send exposures for interactions between individuals using apps from different states,” UAB’s Feldman said. “This interoperability gap was solved by the APHL’s creation of a National Key Server. It will allow more streamlined interoperability of exposure notifications between the Alabama Department of Public Health and other state agencies, creating a tremendous benefit to GuideSafe app adopters.”

GuideSafe participates in Apple and Google’s Exposure Notification System (ENS)​, and the APHL helps deliver that groundbreaking technology to public health agencies across the United States. An essential element of exposure notifications is a unified digital language for communication, or exposure notification “keys.” Rather than having each state and territorial public health agency bear the burden of building and hosting its own key server, a national key server, hosted by APHL on the Microsoft Azure Cloud, securely hosts the keys of those affected users. This enables exposure notifications throughout the country by ensuring that users can find out when they may have been exposed by users from other states.

“The ability to connect to the National Key Server is yet another remarkable achievement to help guide, protect and inform the people of Alabama,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the ADPH. “The free GuideSafe app gives anyone with a smartphone the power to inform ourselves and those around us of potential exposure to COVID-19 safely and securely. To be able to do this now while traveling to the District of Columbia and 12 other states – with more states to come as more are added to the national server – gives each one of us who use GuideSafe additional information, which means it gives each of us as individuals additional power as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”

When someone downloads the GuideSafe app and then tests positive for COVID-19, they can upload their positive test through the app, which then notifies the ADPH. Subsequently, if you were within 6 feet of a person for 15 minutes or more who tested positive – and that person reports their positive test to the app – the ADPH will notify you through the GuideSafe app that you have had a potential exposure. By connecting to the National Key Server, that notification is now extended beyond Alabama.

“The beauty of the app is that it knows to alert you because it exchanged keys with the now-infected person, who also downloaded the app and reported his or her positive case,” Rivers said. “Now that GuideSafe is connected to the National Key Server, it can exchange these keys with other Google and Apple exposure notification technologies created by other states that are also connected to the server so that those who may have been exposed to the virus find out as quickly – and securely – as possible.”

Alabama was an early adopter of exposure notification technology. The Alabama Department of Public Health tapped UAB to design an exposure notification app as part of Gov. Kay Ivey’s efforts to provide a robust platform of COVID-19 testing, symptom monitoring and exposure. Ivey directed $30 million of federal relief money for the initiative, and GuideSafe was among the first exposure notification technologies available in the United States when it launched Aug. 17.

“We are excited for Alabamians that we have proactively created this tool, GuideSafe, that puts us on the front end of helping people confidently regain mobility across states in our nation,” said Rajesh Pillai, director of Identity and Access Management and Integrations Enterprise at UAB and key collaborator from the university with the APHL. “If we are following evidence-based pandemic health protocols that we know work – masking, maintaining social distance, washing hands frequently – and utilizing GuideSafe, it should give us an extra element of confidence as individuals. And if we are notified by the app that we have a potential exposure, it gives us vital information that enables us as citizens to act in a responsible manner and protect our immediate community.”

For more information and a list of GuideSafe Exposure Notification App-specific FAQs, see guidesafe.org.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 mins ago

DOJ sues housing authority in small Alabama town for racial discrimination

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in the Northern District of Alabama on Tuesday alleging that the Housing Authority of Ashland, Alabama engaged in racially discriminatory practices.

The Justice Department alleges the Housing Authority, along with Southern Development Company which owned the facilities in question, violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The named parties allegedly “denied African-American applicants the opportunity to live in overwhelmingly White housing complexes, while steering White applicants away from properties whose residents were predominantly African-American,” according to a release on Tuesday. The practices were in place since at least 2012, according to the DOJ.

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“Individuals and families should not have their rights affected by their race or national origin,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Prim F. Escalona in a release.

“Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” she added.

Ashland is the county seat of Clay County and has a population of around 2,000 people. It is about a one hour drive south of Anniston and a roughly 90-minute drive east of downtown Birmingham.

According to the Department, the suit “seeks damages to compensate victims, civil penalties to the government to vindicate the public interest, and a court order barring future discrimination and requiring action to correct the effects of the defendants’ discrimination.”

Census data from 2010 showed the city’s population was roughly 75% white and 25% black.

The Housing Authority received financial subsidies from the federal government to make affordable housing units available to disadvantaged families.

“Discrimination by those who receive federal taxpayer dollars to provide housing to lower-income applicants is particularly odious because it comes with the support and authority of government. The U.S. Department of Justice will not stand for this kind of unlawful and intolerable discrimination,” stated Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

“The United States has made great strides toward Dr. King’s dream of a nation where we will be judged by content of our character and not by the color of our skin. The dream remains at least partially unfulfilled because we have not completely overcome the scourge of racial bias in housing,” he added.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

24 mins ago

Ivey calls for ‘return to in-person instruction as soon as possible’

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday released a statement encouraging Alabama education leaders — both on the state and local levels — to get students back to in-person instruction as soon as possible.

This comes as many school districts continue with various forms of instruction other than traditional in-person learning; this includes hybrid formats as well as virtual-only instruction.

Additionally, some school districts, such as Birmingham City Schools, have recently announced a cessation of any in-person instruction as COVID-19 numbers rise nationwide and across the Yellowhammer State.

“Due to COVID-19, 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, especially for our parents, teachers and students,” Ivey said to begin her statement. “I’m extremely grateful for the flexibility everyone has shown as they have adapted to virtual instruction.”

“However, virtual and remote instruction are stop-gap measures to prevent our students from regressing academically during the pandemic. These practices cannot — and should not — become a permanent part of instructional delivery system in 2021. As we are learning more about COVID-19, we are seeing more and more clear evidence pointing out that our students are safe in the classroom with strong health protocols in place,” the governor continued.

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Notably, Dr. Anthony Fauci in recent days called on leaders to keep schools open.

“If you look at the data, the spread among children and from children is not really very big at all,” he advised.

Ivey on Tuesday added, “There are nearly 9,800 fewer students enrolled statewide in this academic year and a five percent reduction in students on the kindergarten level. This will not only result in a critical learning loss for our students today but will also likely lead to an equally negative impact on the readiness of our workforce in years to come. Additionally, it could have an equally important economic loss that affects the critical funding for our classrooms and teacher units.”

“As we begin the holiday season and contemplate a return to a normalcy in 2021, I strongly urge our education leadership on both the state and local levels to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible,” she concluded. “My Administration will work with Dr. Mackey, all of our local superintendents and the Legislature to ensure that our kids are back in the classroom in 2021. Our employers, our families, our communities, Alabama’s taxpayers, and most importantly, our students, deserve nothing less.”

RELATED: State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey: ‘I would not recommend’ statewide school shutdown, virtual learning

Ivey in recent weeks also advocated for keeping Alabama businesses open.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

25 mins ago

Alabama STEM Council names interim executive director ahead of first meeting

Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and director of AIDT, on Monday announced that Lee Meadows, PhD has been named interim executive director of the recently established Alabama STEM Council as the state moves to advance science, technology, engineering, and math education and continue the work of Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.

According to a release, Meadows in this role will work with the leadership of the Alabama STEM Council to help identify and solve barriers to STEM education and discover innovative solutions to meet the future demand of STEM related occupations in the Yellowhammer State.

With over thirty years of experience in science and education, Meadows’ career path has reportedly taken him from teaching chemistry and physics in high school to training and developing future STEM teachers. Helping educators integrate science and technology into their teaching quickly became a passion for Meadows and developing future STEM teachers turned into his personal mission.

Meadows most recently served as a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) School of Education and prior to that was the co-director of UABTeach, where he helped nurture and train a new teaching force of highly qualified instructors in STEM subjects.

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Alabama is projected to need more than 850,000 STEM-related occupations by 2026, according to Alabama’s Roadmap to STEM Success.

“We are at a critical stage with STEM education in our state, and the Alabama STEM Council will be the leading authority to ensure we are poised for growth and success for many years to come,” stated Castile. “Having someone like Dr. Meadows who is passionate and dedicated to the growth and preparedness of future STEM leaders will set Alabama up for a successful future.”

Educator shortages and a disparity of STEM education available to all students regardless of location, economic status, gender or race provide obstacles to meeting the future demand for STEM-related careers.

In a statement, Meadows warned that “if we don’t grow our own STEM workforce we won’t have one.” He also noted that it is both his vision and passion to ensure all Alabama students see the value of STEM and have access to and availability of these educational resources.

This announcement comes ahead of the first meeting of the Alabama STEM Council on Wednesday. The meeting is open to the public via online access, which can be found here.

Meadows and the leadership of the Alabama Stem Council will reportedly begin with a priority of communicating to students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders the value of a STEM education and the doors it can open in the workforce.

Recognizing that there is not currently sufficient data in the state on what works and where the gaps in STEM education are, the Alabama Stem Council will also undertake a data tracking initiative to provide quantitative analysis to guide decisions and priorities. Identifying programs in Alabama that are already doing an exemplary job with STEM education that can be modeled and scaled up for the entire state will also be a top priority for the organization.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

55 mins ago

Zeigler: If ALDOT can build an $800M I-20/59-65 interchange in Birmingham with no toll, they can build an I-10 Mobile Bay bridge with no toll

As talk about construction for a new I-10 Mobile Bay bridge heats up, opponents of the infamous 2019 public-private partnership plan developed by the Alabama Department of Transportation are restating their opposition to any proposal that includes tolling.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who led an online campaign against the 2019 plan, is among those still insisting on no tolls.

During an appearance on FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” in Mobile, Zeigler urged policymakers to look for other funding mechanisms and said if ALDOT could find a way to complete the $800 million upgrades to I-20/59 in downtown Birmingham, it could do so with the I-10 Mobile Bay project, as well.

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“Ever since we were able to block the toll plan, and I might say the very ridiculous toll plan, in August 2019, we knew there was a probability that somebody would come back with another plan for an I-10 bridge over Mobile Bay,” he said. “It’s just inevitable. Since then, actually, one loose group of leaders in Baldwin County came back with a proposal, but it didn’t get very far,  seven or eight months ago. Now we’ve been informed that there are people taking another look at it. Now, if they can put in a new bridge using the existing funds — the gas tax, the increase in the gas tax, the GOMESA money, the leftover BP funds, federal money, infrastructure grants — then let’s see the plan and let’s go forward without a toll.”

“You know, in Birmingham, they just built a new I-59, I-20, I-65 interchange costing about $800 million with no tolls,” Zeigler added. “They can build the I-10 bridge with no tolls, and we’re sticking to that.”

Zeigler acknowledged ALDOT director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey’s handling of the 2019 project had resulted in an erosion of the public’s trust but said he was still open to a proposal, assuming it was a toll-free plan.

“ALDOT and its director, John Cooper, and Governor Ivey lost a lot of credibility on the Gulf Coast with the ridiculous plan,” Zeigler said. “The more we learned about that 2019 toll plan, the worse it got. The more facts we learned, the more we had to block the thing, and we did. I have a loss of trust in ALDOT and John Cooper, and many, many other people do, too. But preliminary work for a new bridge with existing funds can be done without their involvement, and the leadership needs to come locally, not from Montgomery. This idea that Montgomery knows what’s best for the Gulf Coast — that is not a good idea.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

1 hour ago

Delta Dental donates $100,000 to Alabama food banks on Giving Tuesday

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation on Tuesday announced that it is giving a total of $100,000 to two food banks in Alabama.

The announcement comes on this year’s Giving Tuesday, a global campaign that encourages people and organizations to do good and pay it forward. The 2020 version of this annual day takes on increased significance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a release from the foundation noted.

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation partners with local communities to increase access to care, support dental education and fund research that advances the oral health field. The foundation is the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California and its affiliated companies — including Delta Dental Insurance Company, which operates in the Yellowhammer State.

“As a result of the pandemic, food insecurity rates and reliance on food banks are skyrocketing like never before,” stated Kenzie Ferguson, vice president for foundation and corporate social responsibility for Delta Dental of California and its affiliates. “Fighting food insecurity is not only the right thing to do for our communities during these trying times, but it also aligns with our mission to promote oral health.”

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The foundation’s release explained that dental caries, or the disease that causes tooth decay, has been linked to food insecurity – a disruption in food intake or eating patterns due to a lack of resources – in numerous studies.

Alabama food banks receiving grants are as follows:

Community Food Bank of Central Alabama in Birmingham – $75,000
Montgomery Area Food Bank – $25,000

Overall foundation support in 2020 totals nearly $15 million nationwide, including nearly $350,000 to nonprofits in Alabama.

RELATED: Alabama Power employees raise money to help people in need

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn