Apple once used the phrase, “There’s an app for that” in its iPhone advertisements and now that statement is true even for North Carolinians who want to know if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
“SlowCOVIDNC,” the official exposure notification app of the state, alerts North Carolinians when they’ve been exposed to someone who’s tested positive for the virus who has also downloaded the app and placed that information in their phone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be considered exposed, you have to be within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more regardless of whether you or the person with COVID-19 are wearing masks.
According to state officials, the app is completely anonymous, and it doesn’t collect, store or share any personal information or location data.
Even before the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced the launch of SlowCOVIDNC on Wednesday, Sept. 24, more than 50,000 people downloaded the app. However, when you consider the state has a population of 10.5 million that means 10.45 million people had not downloaded the app.
The app, which works on both iPhones and android phones, uses Bluetooth technology and location data to tell you when you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive and is among the less than one half of one percent of the population who have downloaded the app. However, if that should happen it also gives information about where you were exposed and for how long. Those who’ve been exposed may wish to get tested for the coronavirus.
NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen this week called the app “an easy way for all of us to help protect ourselves, our loved ones and our state.”
The app completed Beta testing earlier this month and can now be downloaded for free through the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
People who test positive for the virus will be given a pin that they can put into the phone app, which will then inform others who have also downloaded the app that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, downloaded the app and put the pin in their app.
Here’s how the app works: “After opting-in to receive notifications, the app will generate an anonymous token for the device. A token is a string of random letters which changes every 10-20 minutes and is never linked to identity or location. This protects app user privacy and security…Through Bluetooth, phones with the SlowCOVIDNC app work in the background (minimizing battery) to exchange these anonymous tokens every few minutes. Phones record how long they are near each other and the Bluetooth signal strength of their exchanges in order to estimate distance.”
If an app user tests positive for COVID-19, that person can anonymously inform the app and that action will notify all the exposed users who have the app. It will inform them that they’ve been in close contact with someone in the last 14 days who has tested positive for the virus and happens to be among the few with the app on their phone.