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Broad Study Overview

A more detailed FAQ will be added during the pilot as questions are raised. For any questions, please feel free to contact either Prof. Striegel (striegel@nd.edu) or Prof. Angst (cangst@nd.edu).

What is the project? Our team of researchers at Notre Dame is investigating how contagious diseases spread in the “somewhat” contained environment of a college campus. Our work is entitled N-DISTANCE (Notre Dame Identification and Social Transmission Advice and Navigation for Covid-19 Evasion) which is a twist on studying proximity to others and of course where this study is being conducted, Notre Dame. This study going on in May 2021 is a smaller scale pilot to test the functionality of the system and to confirm that our data collection will operate effectively in the “wild.”

How do we do study this?  We are providing a large number of students, staff, and faculty (roughly 500x) with a small (size of a quarter) proximity beacon and a cell phone app. The app gathers data when you are in proximity to beacons continuously along with location when the set of nearby beacons change (new people come nearby, people walk away). It periodically phones home telling us that a particular smartphone app saw a beacon at a given location.

Why are we interested in studying this? There is not a lot of data about how and when clusters of students, staff, and faculty form during a typical school year.  Obviously, this lack of good data on proximity between people in a campus environment could have been immensely useful during the COVID-19 crisis, but it isn’t too late for us to learn how and when these clusters form and how infectious diseases might spread amongst students, faculty, staff, and family. 

What do we think we can learn?  We don’t think individuals are consciously aware of their own risk, the risk of locations which they may frequent, or the consistency in their compliance and the consistency of compliance of those around them. With the data acquired, we will better understand risk, risk perception, and risk management from the perspective of the individual and institution. We will also be able to identify ‘hot spots’ where clusters of students form at specific points in time.

What do you get out of it?  $10 as a digital gift certificate in early to mid-June, an app that will eventually (fall semester) provides useful, real-time information, and acknowledgment that you are participating in a study that could truly help humankind. We expect that this study will get not only national, but international attention.

What do you have to do?  Grab a beacon and the accompanying information card. Fill out and complete the on-line informed consent. Then, we ask you to carry the beacon with you at all times (or as much as you can). We will also ask you to complete a short survey at the beginning of the study and respond to short survey prompts via your cellphone a few times a day regarding social distancing and safety between now and the end of this semester.

Who else is being asked to participate?  Notre Dame students are the ONLY students in the world who are eligible to participate.  You are part of a pilot study of about 500 students, staff, and faculty.  If we are successful in collecting data and enrolling students, we will launch a bigger study of 5,000 students, faculty, and staff in the Fall of 2021, again exclusively at Notre Dame.

What are notable concerns?  We worry that some will think it is a tracking beacon – it is not. We are interested in knowing risk and risk dynamics, when do new people show up, when do people leave, how many people are around and how close. Critically, we do not know who is in possession of the beacon. We do not know nor do we want to know.

We need your name for Informed Consent and payment but we keep that information separate exclusively for payment. The purpose of the pilot is to help test / verify the system and any data gathered is used exclusively for helping us prepare for the fall.