Tracking digital contacts could be one way to help stop COVID-19 in the United States, but the structure of the country means that there will be 50 individual platforms doing their own tracking. We are here to help you follow them.
As governments around the world prepare to ease social distance and home orders, many are considering contract tracing – and in particular, digital contact tracing – as a way to continue to control sp of COVID-19.
In the United States, there will be approximately 50 different applications and contact search platforms. One for each state, and perhaps two more for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. To help you keep track of what different states and governments are doing, here is an overview of current contact tracking platforms in the United States, as well as additional information on Apple’s exposure notification system and Google and other contact tracking solutions.
What is digital contact tracking?
Contact tracing as a public health strategy is not new. Health and medical experts have used manual contact tracing to track and curb disease sp for centuries.
Generally, these are human public health officials or volunteers who interview people who have been diagnosed with a disease. During these interviews, contact tracers follow with whom this person may have been in contact so that public health officials can test them, trace all their contacts, etc. It is, as you can imagine, difficult.
Digital contact tracking aims to largely automate this process. Using smartphone technology like Bluetooth or location data, public health organizations can track and alert all smartphone users with whom an infected person has been in contact.
Many independent entities have developed their own digital contact tracking technology, from MIT to the government of Singapore. But none of them generated as much buzz as the system announced by Apple and Google in April.
The effort of Apple and Google
The Apple and Google contact tracking system is actually not an application. Rather, it is a development framework that public health entities can use to create their own individual contact tracking applications.
The underlying framework is a cross-platform system that works on both Android and iOS. It works by collecting Bluetooth signals from devices with which you are close. If you, or the owners of one of these devices, are diagnosed with COVID-19, these proximity contacts are notified by a notification.
Unlike other attempts to track digital contacts, the system removes some of the restrictions inherent in using Bluetooth in the background in iOS. Unlike some contact tracing efforts, the Apple-Google API also emphasizes privacy, encryption and decentralization.
For this reason, Apple and Google apparently distance themselves from the nickname of contact tracking. In more recent announcements, the two tech giants have called the “Exposure Notification” system.
Which states use the Apple-Google Contact Tracking API?
The first version of the Care19 app, used in North Dakota and South Dakota, was released too early to use the exposure notification. However, a future update of the application will adopt the Apple-Google system.
As of May 22, no U.S. government or public health agency has created a finished app using the Apple-Google API. But since the framework was officially released in iOS 13.5, several U.S. states have announced plans to build platforms using it.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a press briefing on May 21 that the state would become one of the first to “partner” with Apple and Google to create an app “to track those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 using Bluetooth signals. ”
“And I hope it will become an important tool in the toolbox to slow the number of coronaviruses by using what almost all Alabamians have in their pocket: a cell phone,” said Ivey.
There is currently no information regarding the name of the application or when it might be published.
Earlier in 2020, North Dakota became one of the first states to release a contact finder app, alongside neighboring South Dakota. Released long before the launch of the Apple-Google API, it relied on location data and other information instead of anonymized Bluetooth signals.
On Wednesday May 20, the office of the Governor of North Dakota announced that state health officials will begin building a second digital contact search application using Apple and Google technologies.
“North Dakota is delighted to be among the first states in the country to use exposure notification technology built by Apple and Google to help keep our citizens safe,” said Governor Doug Burgum.
The app will actually be a second version of the state’s current Care19 app, dubbed “Care19 Exposure,” which is also used in South Dakota. It is not known if South Dakota will also use the updated app. The first version of the Care19 application encountered problems with the confidentiality of location data.
Caroline from the south
In a joint Apple-Google statement to Appleiphonestop, the two companies said South Carolina would be one of the first U.S. states to create a contact tracking app using their exposure notification framework.
According to Leslie A. Lenert MD, deputy provost for data science and computer science and director of research information at the Medical University of South Carolina, the app is being built by the State Department of Health and Environment and the Medical University of South Carolina.
The application will be called “SC-Safer-Together”, although there is no word on when it will be available.
Other methods of tracking digital contacts in the U.S.
The Utah Healthy Together app is currently in beta, but does not use the Apple-Google Exposure Notification API.
Like some European countries, however, several states have released contact tracking apps without the exposure notification framework. Similarly, some states have stated that they would not use telephone contact tracking at all. Here is a current list of them.
If a state is not listed here, it is because it currently has no plan for tracking digital contacts. If and when they do, we will update this list.
Utah “Healthy Together”
Utah released its first contact tracking app, Healthy Together, in late April – after Apple and Google announced their framework. The application, developed by social media startup Twenty, has been in beta testing since May 14.
Healthy Together uses a mix of personally identifiable GPS data, cell tower triangulation and Bluetooth signal data to keep an eye on the people a user comes in contact with. The data collected may be shared with officials of the State of Utah, as well as with certain members of Twenty development staff.
On the Utah website, the state says it uses location data because systems that rely only on Bluetooth, like the Apple-Google API, are not precise enough. In addition to contact tracking, the app also contains functionality to find nearby COVID-19 test facilities and receive test results.
Care19 in South Dakota
On April 7, three days before the Apple-Google API announcement, North Dakota launched a free mobile contact finder called Care19. Eventually, neighboring South Dakota also began to urge residents to install the app.
The app, developed by soccer fan tracking startup ProudCrowd, uses randomly assigned ID numbers and location data to track coronavirus sp. Although it uses Wi-Fi, cell phone tower and GPS location data, it anonymizes this data and only stores a user’s location “10 minutes or more”.
If a Care19 user tests positive for COVID-19, health care staff will ask that user for permission to share location information with the state.
In a statement to Appleiphonestop, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Health Services said it “does not and will not use a phone application for contact tracing”.
Even though Apple and Google announced their application programming interface (API) in April, that was not the case. The first beta version of the exposure notification system was released in late April.
Despite the fact that it was not published, Apple and Google have also caught fire from public health agencies on their strong privacy-focused approach.
Countries like the UK, France and Germany would “disagree” with the two American tech giants on the decentralized nature of how contact data is stored. Some of these countries conceded, while the United Kingdom continued with its own proprietary solution.
But contact tracking apps without the Apple-Google API have their own setbacks. The first COVID-19 contact tracking applications deployed in places such as Singapore suffered from user inconvenience due to the fact that they needed a phone to stay unlocked and a user to keep the app open to work properly.