ALBANY — The state has launched a mobile contact tracing app in partnership with Apple and Google software that will alert smartphone users if they were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
COVID Alert NY is a voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app created for the purposes of contact tracing. Contact tracing is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and helps protect individuals, their families, and entire communities, according to the CDC. It lets people know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and that they should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of the virus.
“Contact tracing is awesome and our (Saratoga County) contact tracers have been working very hard – but it also relies on your memory,” says Tara Gaston, one of two Saratoga Springs Supervisors representing the city at the county level. “If you have COVID and you’re diagnosed, they ask you: Where have you been? Do you remember when you went to that gas station, and did you brush up against that person? Do you remember when you saw your neighbor out in the front?’ It relies on you remembering every place you’ve been, who you’ve been in contact with.”
The expectation is the app will “remember” contacts in greater detail than the human memory, and it will do so without compromising privacy or personal information.
“What I do right now is I have a Proximity List,” explains city resident Charlie Samuels, an awards-winning director and photographer and early supporter of the potential benefits of the system. “I’m a documentarian, so I write down everybody I come close contact with. I have my own list. But who else keeps a list? And sometimes I forget. This would be an easy, non-thinking way to do that.”
In April, Apple and Google – normally competitors in business - announced plans to collaborate on building COVID-19 software into iPhone and Android operating systems. On Oct. 1, in partnership with Google and Apple, the New York State Department of Health launched the COVID Alert NY app which enables the software to be used, for those who choose to do so.
The app leverages a private and secure Bluetooth-based technology that alerts you if a sick person spends 10 minutes or more within 6 feet of you, and lets you alert others if you have tested positive without revealing anyone’s identity, according to the state Department of Health.
“The important thing is it doesn’t tell you where you came in contract with them, or when – except that it would have been sometime in the previous 14 days,” Gaston said. “It can be beneficial, and I love the idea especially because there’s also so much privacy built into it. I’m a big pro-ponent of privacy and I don’t want people’s information being shared.”
The more people who download COVID Alert NY, the more effective it will be. The free mobile app is available to anyone 18 or older who lives, works, or attends college in New York or New Jersey, and is available for download from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. COVID Alert NY is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, Korean, Russian and Haitian Creole.