NORRISTOWN — Want to know if you’ve come in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus?
There’s an app for that and Montgomery County officials urged residents to use the technology to help the county suppress the spread of the virus.
COVID Alert PA is a free mobile app, offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, that uses Bluetooth low energy technology and the Exposure Notification System, created jointly by Google and Apple, to notify and give public health guidance to anyone who may have been in close contact with a person who also has the app and has tested positive for COVID-19.
“The app is designed to let you know if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and the way that’s defined is you were within six feet for longer than 15 minutes, you were that close for that long, to an individual who was confirmed to have COVID-19,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh explained at a news briefing this week.
“You will not be told who or where you were exposed but you will be alerted that you have been exposed and to seek medical care,” Arkoosh explained.
#MontcoPa officials urged residents, and particularly business owners, to use the COVID Alert PA free mobile app technology to help the county suppress the spread of the virus.That story coming shortly.— Carl Hessler Jr. (@MontcoCourtNews) October 8, 2020
State and local health officials said the technology can help support traditional contact tracing efforts by notifying more people who have been in close contact with a positive COVID-19 individual at a faster rate. The app supplements traditional contact tracing activities and helps stop the rapid spread of COVID-19.
“I really want to urge business owners, especially those whose employees interact with the public, to consider having all of your employees use this app. It’s a great way to keep your employees as well as your business as safe as possible,” Arkoosh said on Wednesday. “The more people that have this app the better it works.”
New this week, Arkoosh said, the app is now also in use in New Jersey, New York and Delaware.
“So, that means if you travel to any of those states for any reason and you get exposed there, the app will work and the app will notify you even when you’re back here in Pennsylvania…and that way you can get yourself tested and speak to your doctor and get good advice,” Arkoosh said.
State health officials, who launched the app last month, explained when someone receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, they will receive a call from the state Department of Health or their county or municipal health department within 24-72 hours.
If the individual has the COVID Alert PA app on their phone, a public health representative will ask if they are willing to accept a 6-digit validation code. If the individual agrees and enters the 6-digit code in the app, they are given the option to share their random Bluetooth keys with other app users.
Other app users' phones routinely check if they have ever been in close contact with a phone that shared those same Bluetooth keys. If there is a match, the app will let them know they came in close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, which health officials called an “Exposure Alert.”
The app is designed with privacy at the forefront. The app does not use GPS, location services, or any movement or geographical information. It will never collect, transmit or store personal information. In other words, it is completely anonymous, officials said.
Download and use of the app is voluntary and one may choose to install or uninstall the app at any time.
Governor Tom Wolf previously said more than 165,000 Pennsylvanians downloaded the app in the first week after the app was released in late September.
“This is a simple, secure way that each and every one of us can help protect our communities from COVID-19, and I encourage every Pennsylvanian to download the app today. When we unite to stop COVID-19, we accomplish much more than we ever could alone,” Wolf said.
“Pennsylvanians are united in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, and they are downloading the app to make sure their phone is part of the fight,” state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine added.
The app is available for download from the Apple and Google Play app stores.