State launches COVID alert app

The state Department of Health recently launched a new cellphone app designed to alert residents when they’ve come in contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on a conference call Thursday, Oct. 1 that downloading the app is voluntary, but added that it’s a “great tool.”

“It’s going to give people comfort,” he said.

The app does not collect users’ private information, according to Cuomo. It essentially offers another pathway for public health officials to conduct contact tracing should a person contract COVID-19.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware — as well as other countries, including Canada — have already launched COVID alert apps similar to New York’s.

Everyone who downloads the free app is assigned a random code. When one app user spends 10 minutes or more around another user, both users’ phones swap those random codes using Bluetooth technology. The codes are added to a log of close contacts.

If one of the users test positive for COVID-19, a representative of the local county health department will be able to ask that person if they’re willing to alert those on their list of close contacts. If that person agrees to alert those contacts, the app can sent out an alert to those people. The alert is anonymous, and the app won’t reveal your identity, according to the state DOH.

The app never collects users’ names, and any information that users choose to enter into the app — such as their county of residence, age, gender, ethnicity or symptoms — is all logged anonymously, according to the DOH. The app doesn’t track users’ locations through GPS.

Users will also have the ability to manually delete the information they’ve entered into the app by clicking “App Settings” and selecting “Delete My Data.”

In addition to the contact notification feature, the app also gives users access to COVID-19 data and allows users to log any symptoms they may be experiencing.

The app requires that users confirm they’re at least 18 years old. It can be downloaded on both Apple and Android phones by searching “COVID Alert NY” in the Apple or Google Play app stores. More information on the app is available at covidalertny.health.ny.gov.