Pierce College staff and students have concerns with COVID-19 notification systems, Puyallup Post survey finds. (Graphic By: Jayden Fenske)

Survey reveals nearly 60% of students and staff aren’t using COVID-19 notifications

Concerns about their effectiveness, privacy issues and added stress on staff and students are just a few concerns Pierce College students and staff have with COVID-19 exposure notification systems. 

On Jan. 4, a survey conducted by The Puyallup Post was sent out to staff and students about COVID-19 exposure notification systems. In the survey, staff and students were asked questions about their use of exposure notifications, why they’re possibly skeptical and if they understood the system operations. Results showed that out of 73 responses, 41% didn’t know how exposure notification systems operate. 

“I didn’t know it was a thing and I don’t know how it would help me,” said Josie Puryear, a student at Pierce College.

Exposure notification systems work by disguising the user’s identity with random number sequences that change every few minutes. Whenever a user’s near someone whose exposure notification is enabled, both phones will exchange the numbers. If someone reports in the system that they have contracted COVID-19, using the number sequences, anyone who’s been in close contact with them in the past two weeks is notified.

The survey showed that 11.6% of respondents said they weren’t using exposure notifications because the system wasn’t necessary or had concerns about its effectiveness. Experts have also proposed concerns about the effectiveness of exposure notifications. 

According to a team of epidemiologists at Oxford University, the spread of COVID-19 could be stopped if 60% of the population used exposure notifications. However, exposure notifications are currently unavailable in 30 U.S. states. 

Many people are skeptical of companies using technology to take sensitive data, like location data, browsing history and other sensitive matters from users. 11.6% of survey respondents said they weren’t using exposure notifications because of privacy-related concerns. 

“Technology is already invasive enough, I am not going to give permission to be tracked,” said Amy Gordon, a student at Pierce College.

According to an exposure notification system video produced by Apple and Google, the system can’t track users’ location and identity and personal information won’t be shared with companies or other users.

Another reason that people aren’t using exposure notification systems is that they weren’t aware of the settings. The survey put out by The Puyallup Post showed that 21% of respondents didn’t know what it was.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pandemic can cause much stress and anxiety because of the unknowns of COVID-19, feeling isolated and many other factors. The survey of students and staff showed that 7% had stress and anxiety-related concerns with exposure notifications. 

“I feel like if I have an app notifying me about everything COVID-19 then I’ll scare myself,” said Emylia Barker, a student at Pierce.

For some people, like healthcare workers, exposure notification systems aren’t as helpful because they already know they’re exposed to COVID-19. According to the survey, 4.6% of the respondents said they weren’t using exposure notifications because of this reason. 

“I work at a COVID-19 cohort clinic in which we treat suspected patients, many of which end up having COVID-19. My phone would be alarming me all day,” said a student at Pierce College who requested to remain anonymous due to employment concerns.

The survey sent out by The Puyallup Post showed that 41% of staff and students are using exposure notifications. 

The goal of exposure notifications is to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by contact tracing.  The system quickly alerts its users anytime they have been at risk for contracting the virus, allowing them to get testing and treatment with the assistance of public health authorities.

According to the video by Apple and Google, the more people who use exposure notifications, the quicker we can overcome COVID-19 and our communities can recover.

Despite the concern about exposure notifications, the system may offer benefits in some ways. Using the notification system could help the surrounding community stay safer and more informed about current COVID-19 status. 

Interviews and article by @FenskeJayden on Twitter.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Jayden Fenske

Survey reveals nearly 60% of students and staff aren’t using COVID-19 notifications

by Jayden Fenske time to read: 3 min