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NYS Smartphone App Tracks User’s Exposure To COVID-19

COVID-19 Alert NY app
Ian Pickus
COVID-19 Alert NY app

State officials have unveiled a free smartphone app that will be able to notify someone if they have been in contact with a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 Alert NY app will alert the user if they came within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for the virus, and if they were in proximity of that person for more than 10 minutes.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state received funding from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation and worked with Apple and Google to develop the technology. 

“It’s really creative and smart, and I think it can make a big difference,” Cuomo said. 

When someone tests positive for the coronavirus, they are contacted by the state health department, which asks permission to give them a password. The phone is then registered anonymously. Using Bluetooth technology, another smartphone with the app can sense when it comes into contact with that person’s phone. Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo’s chief of staff, said efforts have been made to protect privacy.

“The COVID Alert New York does not track your location, your movement or use GPS,” said DeRosa. “It does not collect or store any personal information. The app is completely anonymous.”  

State officials plan a social media campaign to get New Yorkers to download and use the app.  

The announcement comes on a day when the rate of transmission of the virus rose to 6.5% in 20 hotspots in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley.  

“These 20 hotspot ZIP codes require full attention, and effectiveness, and action. As I've said before, a cluster today can become community spread tomorrow,” Cuomo said. “These ZIP codes are not hermetically sealed, right? People from these ZIP codes go to the surrounding community. They shop in the surrounding communities, they take buses, etc. And that's how you have community spread.”

Cuomo once again called on local governments to enforce rules requiring masks and social distancing, and banning large gatherings.

The rate of the virus in the rest of the state averaged just below 1% on Wednesday. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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