Utah unveils new app to help with COVID-19 tracing

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Utah officials rolled out a new contact tracing smartphone app that will assist the state in tracking and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The Healthy Together app, currently in a public beta test, allows users to opt into the use of their location data to trace whether they may have come in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. The app also asks users if they are exhibiting any symptoms of the virus, and directing them to get a test if needed. If that test is positive, then the app can be used to track who they may have come in contact with.

“The more Utahns choose to use this application, then more clearly our public health teams will be able to see exactly where, and whom the virus is infecting,” said Gov. Gary Herbert. “In time, this will allow us to address outbreaks with a focused approach instead of widespread stay-at-home directives.”

The app is developed by the social app company Twenty. Co-founder and Chief Strategy officer Jared Allgood says using technology to help with contact tracing saves time and resources.

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“If someone tests positive, a public health worker is going to call that person and interview them about where they’ve been for the past two weeks. That process is time-consuming and doesn’t scale very well. It’s also filled with holes in people’s memories. It’s difficult for people to remember where they were. It’s very important for public health to know where they were and who they were with,” he said.

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The application uses Bluetooth and GPS to determine where a person who tested positive has been over the previous two weeks, and who they might have come in contact with. The only limitation is the app only traces contacts with others who are using the app, but the location data is still useful for tracing an infected person’s steps.

Allgood says they designed the contact tracing platform to make sure that users will have confidence that their data will be kept secure. All of the location and contact sharing is opt-in, and all of the data is deleted after 30 days. Users own their location data, and can delete it anytime they choose.

The app could cost taxpayers up to $2.75 million according to officials.