What’s New in Civic Tech: California Launches COVID Alert App

Plus, Philadelphia launches a new used technology donation program aimed at helping to close the digital divide, a federal agency releases hospital-level facility data related to COVID, and more.

A notification to download the CA Notify COVID-19 contact tracing app on an iPhone.
A notification to download the CA Notify COVID-19 contact tracing app.
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology
California has joined the growing list of states that have launched COVID-19 alert apps, which send residents alerts when they’ve possibly come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

To do this, California has partnered with Apple and Google, and officials say the end product is one that is 100 percent private and secure. Dubbed CA Notify, the app functions similarly to all of the others, which have now been launched in Michigan, Colorado, Delaware and others. All of these apps so far are anonymous, no-cost and strictly voluntary. They ask users to submit positive test results into the app, and they subsequently send alerts to anyone who may have come in close contact with the positive party. 

#CANotify is live today. Opt-in to Exposure Notifications and #addyourphone to help #StopTheSpread. 100% private & secure 100% opt-in Never tracks location More info at https://t.co/Ejl29l9njf — Michael Wilkening (@MikeWilkening_) December 10, 2020
The number of states that have launched these apps seems to be rising by the week, headed toward nearly two dozen now. 

In addition to the launch of the California notification app this week, news broke that Oregon’s own notification app will be launching in January.
The end goal of these apps is to give residents the best possible data they can get on when they’ve come in contact with COVID-19 so that they can make the choice to quarantine or prioritize getting tested.

Philadelphia Launches Tech Donation Program

In digital equity news, Philadelphia has launched a new program called PHLDonateTech, and it’s exactly what the name implies — a tech donation program.

The idea behind this program is that residents, as well as local businesses, can donate, recycle or simply gift computers to families and others in need of technology in the Philadelphia community. The goal behind this is digital inclusion, ensuring that the entire city has the same or similar access to the technology that is increasingly vital to participating in modern society, be it for doing homework, applying for jobs or accessing telemedicine services.

Those interested in donating can get involved through a website
or even by texting the word PICKUP to 757-70-FETCH (757-703-3824). Interested parties will then be guided through the donation process, which culminates in someone coming to pickup the donation from the donor. This process is being enabled by a business called Retrievr, which is waving its usual fee for pickups through Jan. 15.

The specific items that residents and businesses are being asked to donate include laptop and desktop computers in relatively good shape. Pickup conditions change for those looking to donate more than 26 items, but information about that — as well as many other aspects of the program — can be found via the PHLDonateTech website.

HHS Releases Hospital-Level Facility Data

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week released hospital level, hyper-localized data sets that represent some of the most granular and specific data sets yet in the fight to respond to COVID-19.

The release of this data was announced Monday via a blog from the HHS. The data is available now by the week, going as far back as Aug. 1. In the past, similar information had been aggregated and released at the state level, which led to inherent variance by state.

“This new data and its data quality are paramount to the U.S. pandemic response,” officials wrote in the release blog. “COVID-19 models, analyses and predictive analytics can only be as good as the data they ingest. By sharing these new hospital COVID-19 capacity data at the facility-level with the public, the opportunity exists to improve data quality.”

Bloomberg, US Conference of Mayors to Help Cities Get Data for Vaccine Distribution

In other COVID response news, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced this week that they would be teaming up to help local government prepare for what stands to be the largest vaccine distribution effort in American history.

This is perhaps relevant to civic technologists because Bloomberg will be helping local governments use data in the service of this rollout. While exact details are not yet known — and, indeed, seem likely to vary by jurisdiction — data seems most relevant in this circumstance when it comes to determining what members of a given community, or what sections of cities, should be prioritized in vaccine distribution.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine