LAWRENCE, Kan. — On Aug. 24, the University of Kansas will welcome students back to its Lawrence campus. This year, there will be a new device in buildings and dorms to help protect students, faculty and staff against coronavirus.
For it to work, everyone on campus will have to download a new app — and be honest about their health.
“We're trying to bring 20, 30,000 people back onto campus in a short amount of time,” said Andrew Foster, KU’s emergency management coordinator. “The number one question that we've gotten from our community throughout this whole thing is, 'Am I allowed to be somewhere? Can I be on campus?'"
The new app is called CVKey, and KU will become the first university in the world to use it for coronavirus screening. “CV” refers to COVID-19, and “Key” refers to the app’s intended usage: “unlocking” buildings for anyone on campus.
CVKey is developed by KU alum and former Google VP Brian McClendon, and it’s meant to take the guesswork out of navigating campus. After downloading the app, students, faculty, staff and even visitors to campus will be asked to take the daily health assessment quiz.
“The honor system is important,” McClendon said. “A lot of places already have policies in place, with no actual enforcement possible. We use the app, and ask you to tell the truth. In KU's case, it's going to be part of the promise that people make when they come to campus.”
Each building will be equipped with iPad kiosks, which will scan each entrant’s app-generated QR code on his or her cellphone.
“The iPad scans to verify that your QR code shows you have status to go in, but it doesn't even log the scan,” McClendon said. “All it really does is keep a count, so it has an accurate count of how many people it scanned into the building."
If students don't get a blue, or fully passing, designation, it doesn't mean they are stuck. There are lower designations (yellow and red) that would still allow someone to do things like get food from cafeterias in the same building where their dorm is located.
The app is already in use for the few people on campus, including graduate researcher Katie Childers.
“It's definitely made it more comfortable to be here," Childers said. “I can see a lot of people being willing to trade a few seconds of checking in with yourself every day to get back to some kind of normalcy."
The kiosks are designed to scan people’s phones very quickly. Foster said his department tested a building with 60 people trying to get inside, and it only took a couple of minutes to get everyone scanned.
“We can see numbers of people that scan on one kiosk at a time,” Foster said. “So if we see one kiosk that's seeing absurdly high numbers, we'll deploy another kiosk to that site.”
The idea of “normal” has changed for people thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes how the world will look once the coronavirus is under control. But McClendon doesn’t believe the CVKey app will be necessary forever.
“We have a narrow window where any of this matters, hopefully,” McClendon said. “End of next year, we hope everybody is vaccinated to the point where we don't have to do much of this anymore.”
But as the 2020 fall semester approaches, safety is paramount. McClendon says the KU community desperately wants campus to open — and stay open — and he's confident this new level of protection will be a welcome addition.
The university says anyone wishing to enter a building on campus this fall will need to use the app or complete a paper health assessment. McClendon says they're already working on a feature for the iPad kiosks that would also scan to see if a person is wearing a face mask.
For now, KU is the only campus in the world using CVKey, but McClendon says he's in talks with other universities, including Kansas State, where the technology could be rolled out quickly.