The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is launching new mobile technology this weekend to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Exposure Notification System is a mobile service developed by teams at Google and Apple. CDPHE worked with local public health jurisdictions across the state to coordinate the rollout, said Sarah Tuneberg, special COVID-19 advisor for the department.
Tuneberg said the service uses push notifications and Bluetooth to share information. On Apple iPhones, it will be part of the settings. For Android users, it will be a downloadable app.
If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they can share those results without personal, identifying information attached. People who came into contact with someone who tested positive would then receive a push notification alerting them of possible exposure. An exposure, in this case, would be being within six feet of the phone of someone who tested positive for at least ten minutes.
The app also provides information on closest testing locations and instructions on how to self-quarantine.
Tuneberg said the service does not share or store any personal user data. The app uses Bluetooth instead of GPS to ensure people's locations are not being tracked.
A recent study at the University of Oxford modeled the app's effectiveness by using three counties in Washington state. The researchers found that 15 percent of the county populations using the app could potentially reduce the infection rate by 8 percent and deaths by 6 percent.
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CDPHE is aiming for 15 percent adoption of the service across the state, said Tuneberg, but "adoption at any level is hugely supportive."
Opting-in to the app is voluntary. Jenny Wanger from Linux Foundation Public Health, who helped in the app's rollout, said it might be easier for people to share their status with an app rather than with a local contact tracer.
Tuneberg said while the app was supposed to launch in September, the delay in rollout was due to making sure every county could easily access the service.
"We needed to ensure that the strategy we used worked for everybody, and it was worth making sure we did that so we didn't accidentally mess it up," said Tuneberg. The system is not supposed to replace traditional contact tracing efforts, but to complement them.
The Exposure Notification Service is slated to launch this Sunday on Apple and Android phones in Colorado. Apple users will receive a push notification that it is available.