Picture yourself in a long line at the grocery store. The woman standing a little too close to you takes off her face covering to talk to the cashier and, three days later, that woman is diagnosed with COVID-19.
The woman doesn’t know you, so how would a contact tracer identify you for possible testing?
Now, there’s an app for that, and Pitt is encouraging the University community to download it.
In September, the Pennsylvania Department of Health released COVID Alert PA, the state’s official mobile app designed to anonymously identify and alert other app users of a potential exposure to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
Developed by the Irish software company NearForm in partnership with the state, the app leverages the power of both Apple and Google and uses Bluetooth technology to detect and maintain a temporary list of anonymized individual devices that have come within close proximity to each other (within six feet of each other for at least 15 minutes).
So, if the woman at the grocery store reports her positive COVID-19 diagnosis on COVID Alert PA, the app will enable her to alert other users (like yourself) to their possible exposure to the virus. You won’t know grocery store lady is behind the alert, and she won’t know who receives the alert; but you’ll all be swiftly connected to a public health official, who will provide further instructions.
All you need to do is download the free app from Google Play or Apple’s App Store and “opt-in” to be able to receive COVID-19 Exposure Alerts, which will appear as push notifications, never as text messages. (Check out this FAQ from Department of Health’s website to learn more about the app.)
“As we have seen with this virus, it can rapidly progress from one infected individual into a community-wide outbreak,” said Pitt’s Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences Anantha Shekhar. “We also know that swift and accurate contract tracing can play a key role in helping to curb the infection count from growing too big or too fast.”
The app only alerts public health authorities to positive COVID-19 tests if the users themselves report their positive test results on the app, enabling health authorities to request further information from those users.
The app also provides users with the state’s latest information regarding COVID-19 and contains a “COVID Check-In” section, in which users can log their symptoms, set reminders for logging symptoms and track their symptom history over time.
Although participation in the app is voluntary, Pitt is encouraging all students, faculty and staff to download the app and enable Exposure Alerts. In combination with the University’s continued emphasis on physical distancing, correctly worn face coverings, proper hygiene and testing, the COVID Alert PA tracker is a powerful technological tool that allows public health authorities to more rapidly identify more positive COVID-19 cases than traditional contact tracers.
But here is one hitch, according to Shekhar. “The more people who use this tool, the more effective it is at helping to drive smart decision making and prevent our community members—both in Pittsburgh and at Pitt—from unknowingly contracting, carrying and spreading COVID-19.”