If your smartphone, smartwatch or other smart device just went crazy at noon, Tuesday, Dec. 22, it’s because the State of North Carolina temporarily took over your devices to make absolutely sure that you and those around you are aware that there’s a coronavirus pandemic going on.

 The state is also using the electronic public alert system to encourage people to take action to mitigate the spread of the virus at what is usually the most social time of the year. 

Normally, the blaring emergency warnings signal life-threatening weather or earthquakes, of – for those who choose to receive them – offer Amber Alerts that inform people how to help find missing children.

However, in 2020, the emergency alert system is being used to remind people of the same things they are reminded of 24/7 through store signage, social media, television and radio and other sources.

 Normally, the electronic public safety alerts contain new information. However, on Tuesday the noon wakeup call just noted that the pandemic is ongoing.

“COVID-19 continues to be a serious threat in NC,” it read, adding reminders that people should avoid traveling over the holidays and should keep all friend and family gatherings small.

The warnings are also now doubling as app advertisements: Tuesday’s noon alert provided a link and encouraged smart phone users to download the new “SlowCOVIDNC Exposure Notification app” from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store and enable it by turning on Bluetooth and allowing exposure notifications.

After people put the app on their phones and set it up, the app will generate an anonymous token for that electronic device.  It then anonymously alerts you if you’ve come near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and who is using the same system.