A smart phone app that alerts users to coronavirus exposure will be released for general use in Pennsylvania next month, and experts said it could become a powerful tool to curb spread of the virus.
The app, called COVID Alert PA, has been designed to communicates confidentially with other app users to track contacts who have spent 15 minutes within 6 feet of each other, which is the length of exposure public health officials use in contact tracing.
The state has a $1.9 million contract, using federal grant dollars, to deploy and maintain the app with software developer NearForm Ltd, an Ireland-based company.
The app was developed in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, but Health Secretary Rachel Levine said at a news conference Tuesday that the app will not replace DOH’s existing contact tracing efforts, which help pinpoint where COVID-19 cases may have originated from and inform people who might have possibly been exposed.
How will the app work?
Levine continually stressed that user privacy was a major priority when developing the app. The app uses technology from Apple and Google to measure time and distance near another device in your Bluetooth range, and but does not identify individuals or track locations.
Instead, it allows users to receive notifications if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 along with information about quarantine and testing.
Levine said the app could be particular useful in crowded environments because it will identify those in close contact with an infected person, even those unknown to the patient.
“Sometimes it is difficult to recount every step in your day, and who you may have spent more than 15 minutes with, in close contact,” Levine said. “You could know if a relative tested positive, but may not know about someone who was in a long line with you at a pharmacy.”
If enough people download the app, it could become a powerful tool to control the spread of COVID-19, Levine said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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