State unveils new COVID-19 mobile app to bolster contact tracing

State officials on Thursday unveiled the latest tool for contact tracing COVID-19 patients: a mobile app.

The new app, called COVID Alert NY, can potentially alert someone who may have been in close contact to a person that has tested positive for COVID-19. The effectiveness of the app is dependent on people downloading it, officials said.

People who download the free app can then opt-in to receive alerts if they have been potentially exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The app uses bluetooth technology to sense when another person with the same app is within six feet for more than 10 minutes. The phones then exchange a secure code to record that they were near each other. It does not record the geographic location of where the interaction took place, only that the two phones were in proximity to each other.

“The app will never track your location and is completely anonymous,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a Tweet, promoting the new app.

The app does not use GPS or collect personal data, he said.

Click here for more information on how the app works

“When a person tests positive for COVID-19, a case investigator from the county health department will ask if the person is willing to share the app’s list of ‘close contact’ codes to help protect other people,” according to the app’s website. “Sharing your list is secure and private. The app never reveals who you are to anyone.”

Other states such as Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have also launched apps that can help contact tracing. Mr. Cuomo said New York’s app will work in conjunction with the other apps to allow for regional exposure notifications.

The COVID Alert NY app works on both iPhone and Android systems. It also features an optional Health Log where people can track on how they’re feeling each day and the information is shared anonymously with the State Department of Health, which will use the data to “better understand how COVID-19 is affecting New Yorkers.”

Health officials have said contact tracing is a critical step toward combatting COVID-19 before a vaccine is widely available. Each region in New York must currently maintain a certain capacity of contact tracers as part of the NY Forward reopening plan.