New York App Alerts You If You Come Near Someone With Coronavirus

NEW YORK, NY — New Yorkers can now download a free app to their smartphones that will alert them if they come near people who test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday the launch of the state’s new COVID Alert NY app. New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware will offer their own versions of the app, as well. The app uses the phones existing Bluetooth technology to alert the user when they come within close contact of an infected person, defined as 6 feet.

The app talks to other people’s apps. When someone reports to the Department of Health that they are infected, contact tracers will ask if they have the app and are willing to share their “contact” list, which is automatically generated by being within 6 feet of someone for more than 10 minutes and who also activated the app. A representative will call people on that contact list.

Photo courtesy of New York State Department of Health
Photo courtesy of New York State Department of Health

Officials on Thursday did their best to address potential privacy concerns, noting the app does not collect users’ personal data such as name or address. It also does not use GPS tracking. The app keeps users anonymous and was billed as a new tool to supplement contact tracing efforts.

“It’s really creative and smart and I think it can make a big difference,” Cuomo said. He later added: “Testing is only as good as contact tracing.”

The state has about 19 million people and just 15,000 contact tracers, or “disease detectives,” as Cuomo called them. The state is also currently targeting 20 “hot spot” zip codes in the Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island. So you can isolate/quarantine that person and find connections.

“We’ve been looking for a technology-based solution,” Cuomo said.

According to the Department of Health’s website, the app is a “voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app.”

“You will get an alert if you were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Knowing about a potential exposure allows you to self-quarantine immediately, get tested and reduce the potential exposure risk to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others,” the website said.

The state partnered with Bloomberg Philanthropies and received help from major tech companies including Google and Apple, Cuomo said.

The app, which works on both Apple and Android, is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and available in seven languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, Korean, Russian and Haitian Creole. It cost about $700,000 to develop, which is funded through federal dollars and support of the Bloomberg Foundation, officials said.

This article originally appeared on the Long Island Patch

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