App developed by Washington University sends COVID-19 exposure alerts
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KY3) – Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis developed a contact tracing app that can allow you to track COVID-19 exposures at the tips of your fingers.
The notification system can allow users to know when they have come into contact with other users who may have tested positive for COVID-19. For iPhone users, you can go into “settings” and turn on those notifications. While Android users can download the app “MO/Notify.”
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to think about a tool like this as part of a layered approach to mitigating the spread of the virus,” said Philip Payne, Chief Data Scientist at the Washington University School of Medicine.
As COVID-19 cases have risen over the last few months, Payne said the alert system is another way to help keep you and your family safe, especially among new variants.
”As we deal with new variants that are circulating in the community, certainly right now we’re focused on the Delta variant, it is a reality that even if you are fully vaccinated, it’s important to know if you have been exposed to someone who is positive, so you can at least monitor for symptoms in case you do in fact develop an infection yourself.”
He said the notifications can supplement regular contact tracing, which often takes a bit.
”Instead of taking days for traditional contact tracing, this is an alert that you could have literally within minutes of somebody receiving a positive COVID test,” Payne said. “Which obviously accelerates the process of containing the spread of the virus.”
When someone gets a positive test result, they can press a button on their phone. Other users who came into contact in the last 14 days will be notified immediately. They may need testing or isolation.
All of this only applies to those using the app, so you do not have to worry about any privacy issues.
”The privacy concerns are really taken care of by Apple and Google in the way they handle the cryptography behind the scenes,” said Shannon McMurtrey, an Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at Drury University. “It’s a completely opt-in program. So you can opt-in or opt-out at any time. When you do opt-in, there are some keys that generate I think every 10 or 15 minutes. Apple or Google, neither one of them is able to identify you by your location.”
“We’re going to have to find ways to live with this virus for some time,” Payne said. “And that layered approach, including this type of rapid contact tracing, and exposure notification is going to help us to navigate that new normal. And that’s really what I encourage everyone to think about is how do we find a new normal where we can keep people safe, and learn to live with this virus for the next several years.”
McMurtrey agreed that new tools like this can add to the resources already in use to combat COVID-19.
“This is the sort of thing we need,” he said. “The more we can use technology and really eradicate this virus, the sooner we can get back to normal. I’m glad this is available.”
A total of 25 states are already using similar apps. Payne said the university aims to have all staff and students using the system. Hundreds already are and he encourages anyone to go ahead and get started. He said developers will continue to add new resources to the app as the pandemic continues.
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