New Pennsylvania App Can Tell You if You Have Been in Contact with Someone who Tested Positive for COVID-19

By Katie Herrmann

“COVID Alert PA” is a new app that will alert residents if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. In just the first week of its release, there were over 180,000 Pennsylvanians who downloaded the COVID Alert PA app. The app can be downloaded through the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “COVID Alert PA.” The free mobile app was designed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by contact tracing through a technology developed by Apple and Google called the Exposure Notification System. The technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy to detect proximity between phones.

Here is how it works: When the health department contacts someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the public health representative will provide a 6-digit code that the individual should enter in to the COVID Alert PA app. The app will then alert other app users who have ever been in close contact—within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes—with the COVID-positive user’s phone. Anyone who has been in close contact with the COVID-positive app user will receive an Exposure Alert. This alert does not reveal any information about the individual who tested positive, including identity or location. This method only gives the Pennsylvania Department of Health, with permission from the individual, the ability to “flag” someone as COVID-positive through the app.

Downloading the app is completely voluntary, but Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine are encouraging all Pennsylvanians to download the app to increase its efficacy.

They encourage local communities, groups, and organizations to use the app to notify those who have been in close contact with someone who tested positive, so they can take steps to protect themselves and others.

A number of other states have launched contact tracing apps, including Delaware, Virginia. New York and New Jersey. Many states are expected to develop their own similar apps. The app will continue working outside of Pennsylvania lines, but only with states that also have exposure-notification mobile apps that have been developed with the same technology. One of the greatest concerns that Pennsylvanians will likely have that would prevent them from downloading the app is the fear of being tracked by a government app. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website assures users that the app does not use or collect any location data or personal data and the app will not share any information.  It was designed “with privacy at the forefront” and promises to be completely anonymous. It only uses Bluetooth technology and does not use GPS, location services, or any movement or geographical information.

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