State of Pennsylvania

State of Pennsylvania launches contact-tracing app

Leading Irish developer of contact-tracing technology, NearForm, bags second US state in a week with its Google and Apple API-based platform

Pennsylvania has become the latest US state to launch a mobile contract-tracing app to combat the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, just days after neighbouring Delaware made a similar launch based on the same underlying technology.

Like its Delaware equivalent, Pennsylvania’s Covid Alert PA app uses exposure notification system technology developed by Apple and Google to detect if users have been in close contact with another person who later tests positive for Covid-19. The system will send a notification to the phone, called a Covid-19 Exposure Alert, in which users will be given public health guidance on what to do next.

The app uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BTE) and an application programming interface (API) from Google and Apple to allow mobile phones with the app installed to recognise when they are near other phones also running the application. The app will securely and anonymously alert users who have been in close contact with anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 and also has the app downloaded on their phone. Close proximity is defined as within six feet for 15 minutes or more.

The app is designed to be completely anonymous, so it does not enable any location services or track users.

When the health department contacts a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 to discuss their diagnosis, learn how they are feeling and understand who may have been exposed to them, the public health representative will provide a unique six-digit validation code for the individual to enter into the app. Once this step is completed, the app will alert other app users who have been in close contact with the Covid-positive individual, without revealing the identity of that person or their whereabouts.

The app will also provide users with the latest information on Covid-19 in Pennsylvania from the department’s Covid-19 data dashboard.

Covid Alert PA is a partnership between Pennsylvania and Delaware, the University of Pennsylvania’s Centre for Health Incentives and Behavioural Economics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Internet Privacy Research Institute, and Irish software developer NearForm, which developed the Republic of Ireland’s much downloaded contact-tracing app using the same decentralised Apple and Google API technology, and subsequently apps for Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“This innovative solution will enhance our Covid-19 response and give residents another tool to stay calm, stay alert and stay safe, all in the palm of their hands”
Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania Department of Health

And just ahead of the launch of the England and Wales contact-tracing app, Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, announced that it would also be using NearForm’s technology in its app.

Launching the Covid Alert PA app, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf said: “The last seven months have shown that we are most successful when we unite against Covid-19 and work together for the common good, and I am proud to…announce an important new technology that will allow us to do just that.

“This app is a simple tool you can use to help fight Covid-19 every day, everywhere you go. I encourage you to visit your app store and download it for free today.”

Pennsylvania secretary of the department of health Rachel Levine added: “We all play a part in stopping the spread of Covid-19, which is why I am encouraging every Pennsylvanian to add their phone to the fight and download Covid Alert PA.

“By utilising this technology, we can quickly notify more people who have been exposed to Covid-19. This innovative solution will enhance our Covid-19 response and give residents another tool to stay calm, stay alert and stay safe, all in the palm of their hands.”

The Covid Alert PA app is available immediately in English and Spanish from the Apple App store or Google Play store.

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