Arizona State University adopts blockchain-based app to track COVID-19

Universities have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some, at least, are choosing their test-and-trace technology wisely.

Open The New York Times's rolling survey of coronavirus cases on United States college campuses and the picture looks bleak: as of Nov. 5, over 252,00 cases had been confirmed across 1,600 colleges nationwide. 

The spread of infection, combined with an at best incompetent, and at worst, cynical and exploitative policy towards college students and staff has resulted in university communities facing stringent quarantines in unsafe accommodation or being summarily sent home. All the while, students are expected to foot the bill for the full cost of their tuition fees.

With over 2,500 reported cases as of Nov. 5, Arizona State University is, at present, among the harder-hit colleges in the country — just over 50 colleges have reported 1,000 cases over the course of the pandemic, according to the New York Times. To keep this in perspective, it's worth noting that ASU is one of the largest public universities in the U.S., making the challenge of coping with the public health crisis that much more difficult.

The university has now taken a new step to tackle the crisis on the test-and-trace technology front and requiring its 74,500 on-site students and 12,400 employees to use a blockchain-based app daily in its bid to get a handle on the viral outbreak.

ASU is now using the testing and health status app “HealthCheck,” which was designed by Safe Health Systems, or SHS, a partner of Mayo Clinic. Hedera Hashgraph has struck an agreement with SHS to verify and record events in real-time using distributed ledger technology.

HealthCheck is powered by a digital health platform called SAFE, which was developed during the Mayo Clinic and ASU Health Care MedTech Accelerator program. The platform generates digital health IDs and an auditable log of all events, which will, for HealthCheck, be verified and stored using the Hedera Consensus Service. 

The use of these technologies aims to ensure that sensitive health data is kept private and that data reporting is accurate and accountable. On this last point, the HealthCheck announcement explicitly notes that this will be important for coordinating with private health insurance firms. In a statement, SHS CEO Ken Mayer argued:

“We need vastly better information about cases of COVID-19 across various populations to be able to diagnose, treat, and make smart choices about how we approach community response to the virus, with less of a ‘peanut butter’ approach. Only with this kind of information, shared across providers in a smart, secure, tamper-proof way, can we start to move forward.”

A handful of U.S. colleges have notably had significant success with launching in-house surveillance testing programs that randomly test students, regardless of whether they display symptoms. These programs have placed less of an emphasis on data privacy, but their ambitious approach to widespread, random testing has ensured that these colleges are expecting to maintain in-person learning throughout the fall and spring semesters.

As a Cointelegraph report has clarified, privacy concerns do remain, even for blockhain solutions such as HealthCheck, due to their data integrations and partnerships with external medical labs. Cointelegraph has reached out for comment from Hedera Hashgraph to inquire further into the terms of these partnerships and their potential implications for use of the data down the line.

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