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Bluetooth-Enabled App to Alert New Yorkers to COVID-19 Exposure

The app, called "COVID Alert NY," employs Bluetooth technology to record whenever users come within close proximity of each other, but officials say it's anonymous and collects no personal or geographic data.

by Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News / October 2, 2020
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a media briefing in July 2020. Shutterstock/lev radin

(TNS) — The war on COVID-19 is getting smarter.

New York Gov. Cuomo unveiled a new smartphone app on Thursday that alerts users if they've been within 6 feet of a person who has tested positive for the virus.

The app, called "COVID Alert NY," employs Bluetooth technology to record whenever users come within proximity of each other, though Cuomo cautioned on a conference call with reporters that it's anonymous and collects no personal or geographic data.

"It doesn't give any names, doesn't give any privacy information," the governor said.

The technology only works if a person who tests positive downloads the app and registers the COVID-19 diagnosis.

In turn, the app retroactively alerts other users who have recently been within 6 feet of the infected person for more than 10 minutes.

"It's voluntary," Cuomo said. "You have to download the app, but it's a great tool that alerts you if you happen to be within 6 feet of a person who tests positive."

He added, "It's going to give people comfort."

The technology is available for free in most app stores and can be used in English, Bengali, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Spanish. The service will exchange data with similar apps being used in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, allowing for regional tracing.

The app cost about $700,000 to produce, and the bill was footed with a mixture of federal aid and cash put up by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's philanthropic organization, according to Cuomo adviser Larry Schwartz.

The beefed-up contact-tracing effort comes amid some troubling COVID-19 trends in New York.

Out of 109,218 tests conducted in the state Wednesday, 1.27% came back positive, nearly a 0.3% uptick from the previous day.

Cuomo attributed the slight increase to skyrocketing infection rates in a handful of coronavirus "clusters" in the state, most of which are in predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Rockland County and Orange County.

With this month's celebration of the Jewish High Holidays, some residents have attended large gatherings in violation of social distancing and face mask guidelines, likely contributing to the spike in infections.

Cuomo told reporters on the conference call that he had spoken with leaders of the impacted communities.

"They're going to take action on their own, community action," the governor said. "We're going to have public education, we're going to be handing out flyers and mailings and that's a good step."

But Cuomo also faulted local governments for not doing more to enforce social distancing requirements.

"If they're not wearing masks, they should be fined," he said. "Enforcement works. If you speed in your car, you get a ticket, that's how it works. Compliance works, enforcement works. We're in this situation partially because local governments have not been doing compliance."

City workers have headed out to COVID-19 hot spots in Brooklyn this week to hand out masks and literature on the importance of social distancing.

In addition, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that hundreds of NYPD officers are expected to start patrolling the areas to ensure compliance.

Cuomo welcomed that development.

"Compliance and enforcement is key," he said.

©2020 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

 

 

 

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