A smartphone app that could allow users to ‘prove’ their COVID-status has been developed in Cayman.
Designers hope the OpenUp app could be utilised to help vet and monitor visitors, and to allow businesses on the island to remain open in the face of a second wave of the virus.
The app allows for verified data, including coronavirus test results, to be fed securely into a smartphone contributing to a real time ‘green, red or amber’ COVID-risk status that can be voluntarily shared with others – such as businesses or border security – in a privacy-preserving way.
The app also includes a feature that notifies users if they have had contact with another app user who has tested positive for the virus, without disclosing the identity of the positive COVID patient.
OpenUp was developed by Julian Morris, an economist based in Cayman, and Adam Lambert, a blockchain and data-security specialist who runs a company in Cayman’s special economic zone, in collaboration with David and Tracey Walker, who are both Cayman-based accountants with expertise in blockchain.
They are making it available to government and businesses on the island at no cost.
Morris said it had the potential to provide an efficient solution to many of the problems of travel and movement.
“We have spoken to numerous businesses and governments, both on island and off, and there has been considerable interest,” he said.
The group is now looking for a business willing to undertake a small-scale trial of the app to improve its functionality and make it ready for widespread adoption.
At its most basic, the app offers the chance for users to confirm their COVID status at the touch of a button.
That information could then be used by authorities to permit access to the country and to businesses or workplaces, depending on what protocols they have in place.
Helping visitors return
Morris acknowledged that while the island remains COVID-free there is no need for the technology to be used within Cayman’s borders. But he believes it could be deployed to allow visitors safely back into the islands and to enable businesses to continue to operate if the virus resurfaces.
Lambert, who was in the process of developing a digital identity app for the banking industry when the coronavirus hit, said he had adapted the same technology towards the goal of aiding with the problems posed by the coronavirus.
He said a verified, dated, negative PCR test could be stored in the app and used by a visitor as a kind of ‘health passport’ that would allow border-control agents to check they had met the requirements for entry into the Cayman Islands.
The technology would provide a means of digitally authenticating the information to avoid travellers passing off forged results – something that happened in the Bahamas.
Similarly, if businesses wanted to ensure their employees were COVID-free before they came onto a worksite, the app could be used as a means of ensuring they had a recent, negative test.
In theory, any number of data points could be logged on the app.
If government decides to use it as a means to help monitor visitors, it could interface with the BioButton or other technology to provide at-a-glance information on key health indicators, the makers say.
It could also be used, said Lambert, to assist with tracking the movements of any patients that ultimately test positive for the virus and alerting people they have interacted with.
He said the key element of the app is that the data is stored securely using sophisticated blockchain technology. The information is shared on a ‘need to know’ basis with businesses or governments in return for access.
“You are in complete control of your information,” he said.
The effectiveness of the system depends, to an extent, on take-up.
Morris highlights the combination of a contact-tracing element with a health-status function will incentivise use.
In theory, he said, people would want to sign up because it would allow them to quickly prove their COVID status in order to access places and privileges on that basis.
Alternatives to lockdown
In a second wave of the virus, for example, Morris said it could be used as an alternative to blanket lockdowns and closures of public spaces and beaches – allowing people with clear COVID health status to move more freely.
It would also be a tool to help businesses remain open by giving them an option to demonstrate their workers had been tested.
The app can be set to automatically change an individual’s COVID health status as data is updated, for example when a new PCR test is overdue or a contact tests positive for the virus.
Like other contact-tracing apps, it includes a Bluetooth tool that recognises the smartphones of other users and keeps a kind of digital diary of interactions.
If a user of the app later tests positive, anyone who had been in ‘contact’ with that person would be notified and their COVID status would change from green to amber until they were tested again.
Lambert acknowledges it is not foolproof but he said it could work with other technology to help facilitate a safe reopening.
“It is another tool in the box. On its own, it won’t solve the problem but when you combine it with testing, with the BioButton and with masks and other methods, it can contribute.”
Morris said the group is currently looking to partner with businesses to test the app in practice and is in talks with government over how it can help streamline the processes for incoming travellers when the border reopens.
He emphasised that the blockchain technology made the information totally secure and that no one could access anyone else’s data unless it was knowingly and deliberately shared.