ST. PAUL — Minnesota officials on Monday, Nov. 23, announced the rollout of a cellphone application that can notify people if they've been exposed to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.
State health and information technology officials said the COVIDaware MN app could serve as another tool in the state's response to the pandemic and could help people know sooner whether they've been exposed to the virus and should consider testing. Several other states and European countries have adopted the technology.
The app, which was created by Apple and Google and customized for the state by public health officials and the nonprofit PathCheck Foundation, frequently generates a sequence of numbers. And if another person who has the app comes within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes, the two apps exchange those numbers using Bluetooth technology. Neither person's name, telephone number or other information is shared with the app, the companies or the state.
If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they have the option to enter into that app and indicate that they have COVID-19. And at that time, anyone who was in close contact with them for more than 15 minutes would get a notification on their phone.
It would be up to the user to decide whether to share information about a positive test or to seek out testing if they are notified of potential exposure. The apps hold onto numbers of others that have had close contact for 14 days and then delete them.
"When someone tests positive, they have a choice to warn others," Minnesota IT Services Commissioner Tarek Tomes said. "If communities are willing to adopt the app and report positive test results and follow health recommendations when notified of an exposure, this app can help us respond to many of the activities we miss so much and save lives."
News of the app's rollout came as the state announced that COVID-19 cases in the state continue to climb. Department of Health officials on Monday announced that 64 more Minnesotans had died from the illness and 6,353 more had tested positive for the disease.
The app is open-source, so users or those curious about probing how it works can study it. And state I.T. officials said it was designed with user-privacy at its core.
"I want to be clear to Minnesotans, this is an opt-in alternative, you don't have to put the code in your phone and you don't have to notify others that were around you," Gov. Tim Walz said. "I would strongly encourage if not beg you to please do so, it's random. People deserve to know if they've been exposed to COVID-19 ... This is not contact tracing, this is not in and of itself going to stop the spread, it’s another valuable tool."
Minnesota Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said state contact tracers work to determine who might've had contact with a person who has COVID-19 but people often forget all those they've been around or encountered people they don't know. If Minnesotans enable the app, more of those who might've been exposed can be notified and seek testing and quarantine, she said.
"We're really excited about what this can mean, particularly in this time when we have so much transmission," Ehresmann said. "This app will really help us enhance our outreach efforts."
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You can download the COVIDaware MN app on your smartphone in the app store and visit covidawaremn.com for more information.
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 651-201-3920.
- COVID-19 discrimination hotline: 833-454-0148
- Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 website: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) website.