A University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor has created an app that could help communities with their patient tracing in the coronavirus pandemic.

Bilal Khan, a professor of sociology, computer science and engineering, is working with NUtech Ventures, based at UNL’s Innovation Campus, to find a public health partner with whom to deploy his app.

The app tracks where a person has been and, assuming that an infected person also has the app, shows when and where the two individuals crossed paths.

“It’s ready to go,” Khan said. “I’d like to see it tried out, but I’d like it to be done in stages.”

The technology originally was to be used for sociology research, such as monitoring rural drug addiction. But Khan has converted its use to contact tracing in the COVID-19 crisis.

He hopes to find a county or state or other public health partner. That partner would have to invest in computer infrastructure, the cost of which could be hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the project.

The app is designed to identify people only by number in order to protect identities, Khan said. Using the app, the public health system would send a message to the user saying that they have been exposed to someone who has the disease. The infected person also would need to have the app on their cellphone.

The person contacted by the health department then could call the department for further information.

“I’m hopeful,” he said Tuesday of finding a partner. “I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities.”


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rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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