livesafe

Students are sent daily notifications to self-screen using the LiveSafe app. 

In recent weeks, the LiveSafe mobile app has become JMU’s most emphasized public-facing measure for the encouragement of health on campus. And as classes begin, students have begun to receive daily notifications from the app that now governs their ability to enter campus. However, several questions — from enforcement to privacy issues — remain.

Speaking on why LiveSafe was chosen as the primary self-monitoring system for students, Caitlyn Read, university spokesperson and director of communications, said JMU “[has] an existing relationship with LiveSafe” and that JMU has now adapted the app to meet public health needs during the pandemic to allow students to self-assess.

“We felt it was very important to just use a tool to self-screen for symptoms so that [students] would know and be aware of what the most common symptoms are but, sort of, self-assess and make sure that they’re safe to venture outside of their dorms or their off-campus residence,” Read said.

Answering questions about data privacy in regard to medical privacy laws, Read said that the data submitted through the LiveSafe app — the answers to questions and the identities of submitters — is encrypted and routed directly to the Office of Institutional Research (OIR). Carolyn Parent, CEO of LiveSafe, said that while LiveSafe offers several models for university use, JMU chose to receive names along with each survey submitted. Read confirmed that once OIR receives that data, two individuals who “handle the most sensitive data sets for the university” compile the screening results into an aggregated set with all personally identifiable data stripped out. 

From there, Read said, a “simple [Microsoft Excel] sheet” is created by OIR that shows the day’s users and a report of how many users reported symptoms and how many didn’t. That document is then shared with the University Health Center, President Alger’s leadership team and the human resources department, Read said.

“The data that is provided for the university is gonna be aggregate data that is stripped of personal identifiers,” Read said. “That data will be, sort of, disseminated with anybody who needs to be making decisions … but it will not be individualized data.”

The screening asks five questions, including one’s email address, classification as a student or employee, whether one has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, whether one has any of a list of common COVID-19 symptoms and whether one’s been instructed by medical personnel to self-isolate in the last 14 days. Yet, as Read stated, outside of OIR, what’s seen by JMU leadership is only an aggregate set displaying symptom prevalence and usage amount with no personally identifiable information attached.

Parent also confirmed that LiveSafe — natively as well as in its partnership with colleges and universities — is compliant with medical law, both to maintain a compliance standard and to protect the privacy of its users. 

“[What JMU leadership sees] is anonymized, so they don’t see the answers to the questions — they only see what the result set was,” Parent said. “So, it’s HIPAA compliant, and it’s, you know, stored through LiveSafe and then purged through LiveSafe … That just makes it easier so people can answer honestly, get their results set on, you know, ‘Yes, I’m good to go in,’ or, ‘No, I’m not,’ but they don’t have to have a concern that their individual, you know, questions that they answer would be seen by anyone.”

Additionally, Maili Neverosky, vice president of LiveSafe’s global implementation services team, said the university receives the data logged by LiveSafe users “in real time.” Instead of being updated after a certain timeframe — such as on an hourly or daily schedule — the dashboard is updated on a rolling basis as students submit their surveys, Neverosky said.

However, Read also emphasized that “the whole purpose of this app is not data.” She said that while the data is helpful in giving JMU a wide-angle view of symptom prevalence in its student body, the use of the app is more for the students than the university, as it serves as a reminder for students to look out for their health and self-monitor.

“The data is wonderful to have, it paints a more holistic picture, but it isn’t definitive,” Read said. “It’s so that students are reminded to be self-aware and to recognize these symptoms and then to tell them exactly what to do should they be experiencing symptoms — that’s the whole purpose.”

Yet while the app may be primarily designed as a self-screening tool, it also has a function for anonymous tip reports, raising questions of enforcement and how JMU would be able to mandate usage of the app and the following of its public health policies. In response, Read said that goes hand-in-hand with the agreement students had to sign on MyMadison to begin the semester, which requires all signatories to follow all of JMU’s new health policy. In terms of enforcement, Read said it’ll be handled on a “case-by-case basis based on the severity of whatever the violation is.”

Read said that the tips from LiveSafe are routed to the JMU Police Department (JMUPD), but JMUPD will most likely not serve as the immediate enforcer. Instead, the tips are passed along to different offices around campus more directly involved with students, such as the offices of academic and student affairs. Read added that one part of the rerouting of tips to other offices is that JMUPD’s enforcement capability is restrained to state code policies, meaning that their jurisdiction doesn’t include many of JMU’s new COVID-19 health policies. 

“JMUPD does not have the resources to dispatch every time somebody is reported to not be wearing a mask or to have been seen with a red X,” Read said. “JMUPD’s role in this is going to be to parse out the tips to the applicable leaders across campus.”

Read continued, saying, “More realistically, if [JMUPD was] seeing multiple reports about, maybe, a classroom where multiple people were not wearing masks or there wasn’t appropriate physical distancing, they would take that step and they would send it over to [the Office of Academic Affairs].”

However, even with LiveSafe and other public health measures in place, Read said that the university is relying on students and employees to self-police themselves and their peers.

“Students are going to be responsible for policing themselves,” Read said. “We need students to make really good decisions, recognizing that the decisions they make are not only going to impact them — they’re going to impact their peers, their faculty, their community at large who could potentially put us in a situation where we again have to pivot to online learning.”

Read said that on the first day of classes, the university recorded 13,239 usages of the app, which Read called “a pretty good saturation of our students and of our employees,” and which she said tells the university that students are “doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing” — a sentiment shared in Presiden Alger’s email to students, subject-lined “Cautious Optimism.”

As JMU moves further into the fall semester, Read said that “[JMU feels it has] a really solid structure in place” for its enforcement of public health policy — LiveSafe is one more aspect of that structure.

Contact Jake Conley, investigations editor, at breezeinvestigations@gmail.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.