Pennsylvania launches privacy-focused app alerting people when they’ve encountered someone with COVID-19

Pennsylvania released an app Sept. 22 that uses Bluetooth technology to let users know if they’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The COVID Alert PA app, which was created using Apple and Google’s contact tracing technology, does not enable phones’ location services. If someone gets a notification saying they were exposed to the virus, the names and locations of those they came into contact with are never shared. The app also does not let the state know who downloaded the app or who has been exposed to the virus.

“It takes one thing that we never really leave home without, which is our phone, and helps us use it to protect yourself and others from this very contagious virus,” the state’s health secretary, Rachel Levine, MD, said during a Sept. 22 news conference.

If a user seeks additional instructions from the state, the app allows them to submit their phone number so a contact tracer can speak with them. It also provides users with information about testing locations and has a symptom logging feature.

The software company that developed Pennsylavnia’s app, NearForm, is creating apps for other states, including ones for New York and New Jersey that are compatible with each other.

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