Andrew Cuomo, New York Governor, speaks during the daily press conference at the New York State Governor’s Office on June 12, 2020 in New York City.
Jeenah Moon | Getty Images
New York launched a new coronavirus infection tracking app on Thursday that will notify users when they come into close contact with someone who tests positive for Covid-19, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy later announced the launch of Covid Alert NJ on Thursday.
“We have about 15,000 contact tracing people nationwide. We call them disease detectives. But we were looking for a technology-based solution,” Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters. “The app will know where a person who tested positive has been on their phone, and the app can tell you if you were within six feet of that person.”
Contact tracing is the process by which trained personnel contact people who test positive for a virus, ask them to quarantine, and contact people who may have been exposed to the infectious person. It’s one of the few proven strategies to contain outbreaks, but it is was never carried out to the extent required by the pandemic.
Some countries, including France, Germany, Ireland, and South Korea, have chosen mobile apps to quickly expand the effort. Such programs have achieved varying degrees of success in getting the public to adopt the system.
The new app in New York uses Bluetooth technology, rather than location tracking technology, to detect close contact between phones and, therefore, individuals, said Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor.
“Covid Alert NY does not track your location, movement, or use GPS. No personal information is collected or stored,” she said. “The app is completely anonymous. It uses Bluetooth technology to track proximity to another phone with the same app, but not by geographic location.”
Apple and Google call their Bluetooth-based system “exposure notification” to create a contrast to contact tracking. Apple-Google technology has been adopted by several states that have released apps, including Virginia, North Carolina, and Arizona. New York is the largest state to date to have published an app based on Google-Apple technology first announced in spring when workplaces and schools closed in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The more people install the app, the more effective it becomes as more phones keep an eye out for the app’s Bluetooth signals. This means that adoption is critical for these apps to be effective. A previous study suggested 60% acceptance was required. In Virginia, the first state to publish an app, only half a million people downloaded the app, or roughly 5% of the population in the first month it was available.
Representatives from Apple and Google presented research results In September, exposure notification apps could reduce Covid-19 infections if 15% of users install the app in addition to contact tracking.
Covid Alert NY App
Source: Covid Alert NY ap
The app “doesn’t give any privacy information” and is voluntary, Cuomo said. He added that the app will be rolled out in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut to enable work across state lines.
“Everyone is wondering, ‘I was next to this person, I was next to this person’ but this can actually give you some data,” Cuomo said. “I think it will not only take contact tracing to a new level, but it will also bring comfort to people.”
The app will roll out when the New York state cases tick up. powered by a number of hot spots. According to Cuomo, the state is researching and collecting resources on 20 zip codes, with the percentage of tests that positive continues to increase.
Google, Apple and Bloomberg Philanthropies, led by billionaire philanthropist and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, all contributed to the development and launch of the app, Cuomo said. The governor announced in April that Bloomberg would help develop the program.
Larry Schwartz, a longtime advisor to Cuomo, helped develop and implement the app, Cuomo said. Schwartz said on the call that the app was “an improvement on traditional contact tracing” that the state had done and was not a replacement.
He added that the app was tested on university campuses. The app cost about $ 700,000 to develop. It was paid for through a combination of federal funds and support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The app is available in the six best languages spoken in New York, he said. The New York app also works across state lines to alert people using similar apps from Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Schwartz added that a team of data security experts were reviewing the app to protect user privacy.