Connection to APHL National Key Server extends GuideSafe™ app capabilities beyond state lines

Alabamians who download and use the GuideSafe™ app now have an added layer of information when traveling to help make smart, informed COVID-19 decisions.

Close-up of mobile phone displaying a screen from the GuideSafe Exposure Notification app being held by unidentified woman; users of the app can anonymously share a positive COVID-19 test result - and be anonymously notified of potential previous close contact with someone who later reports a positive COVID-19 test result - without sharing anyone's identity; August 2020.Alabamians who download and use the GuideSafe™ app now have an added layer of information when traveling to help make smart, informed COVID-19 decisions.  Every Alabamian using the GuideSafe™ app for ongoing COVID-19 exposure and monitoring will receive an extra layer of protection beginning today when the app is 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 test notifications as they travel across state lines to other states that also have connected their technology connected 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 exposure notifications for interactions between individuals using apps from different states,” said Sue Feldman, Ph.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Schools of Health Professions and Medicine. “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™ Exposure Notification app adopters.”

GuideSafe™ participates in Google’s and Apple's Exposure Notification System (ENS)​, and the APHL helps deliver that groundbreaking technology to public health agencies, residents, and travelers across the United States. An essential element of test notifications is a unified digital language for communication, or test 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 test 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 Karen Landers, M.D., district medical officer for the ADPH, noting the security the app provides those who utilize it. “The free GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification app gives anyone with a smartphone the power to inform themselves 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.”

States with an exposure notification app currently on the National Key Server:​

  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • ​Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wyoming 

States piloting an exposure notification app with a limited population on the National Key Server:

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Oregon
  • Washington

When someone downloads the GuideSafe™ Exposure Notification app and then later tests positive for COVID-19 and anonymously reports that positive test in the app, that information is matched to the positive test on ADPH’s server, and anonymous notifications are sent out to those who had the app downloaded and were within 6 feet of person for 15 minutes or more. 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-COVID positive person, who also downloaded the app and reported his or her positive case,” said Brian Rivers, associate vice president and chief technology officer at UAB. “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 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) 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 anonymously 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.”  

GuideSafe™ — a multitool platform developed by a team of experts at UAB, part of the University of Alabama System, to combat COVID-19 — launched its exposure notification app statewide in Alabama on Aug. 17. To date, more than 150,000 Alabamians have downloaded the app with a total of 375 positive COVID-19 notifications generated statewide.  

Supported by CARES Act funding, the GuideSafeTM Exposure Notification App was built by UAB with support from Birmingham-based MotionMobs in active collaboration with ADPH and integrating Google and Apple’s Exposure Notification System (ENS).  

Download the GuideSafe app today.

Google Play Store

Apple Store

It protects personal privacy and data while anonymously alerting a user of possible exposure to someone who later tests positive to COVID-19. GuideSafeTM 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 GuideSafeTM Exposure Notification App-specific FAQs, please visit