App could bolster contact tracing efforts
With the help of tech giants Apple and Google, the California Public Health Department this month launched a new tool to help alert people of potential COVID-19 exposure, but its effectiveness will depend on how many Nevada County residents decide to trust it.
So far, CA Notify — a downloadable app on the Google Play Store, and settings feature on iOS version 12.5 or later — has been used by 7.3 million of more than 39 millions California residents.
The app uses Bluetooth technology, rather than collecting location data, to notify users when they’ve been in close contact — within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more — with someone who had a positive test result.
When a CA Notify user tests positive they’ll get a verification code from the state public health department they can put into the app, which will then anonymously notify close contacts within the last two weeks of possible exposure without revealing the user’s location or identity.
People who receive the notification will get instructions on the next steps in monitoring symptoms, isolating, and getting tested.
Figures for Nevada County’s usage were not immediately available.
In Grass Valley, Sadie Moran said she received a prompt to download the app last week and downloaded it, but said she’s reluctant to use it.
“I did download actually, but I usually keep my Bluetooth off,” Moran said. “I might use it eventually, but for now I’m wearing a mask all the time and staying home as much as possible.”
While the tool could be boon for county contact tracing efforts (more than 500 cases, 23% of cases all-time, are currently active), researchers emphasize its effectiveness is contingent on usage and the availability of other tools like testing.
An Oxford University study, for example, found infections and deaths in Washington State could be reduced by 15% and 11%, respectively, if 15% of the population used the tool. But that only holds true in concert with a well-staffed manual contact tracing team, the study found.
In Nevada City last week, Curt Unholz said he simply doesn’t trust those in charge.
“I feel like I don’t trust the motives of these people,” Unholz said “I believe there’s obviously something going on, but I believe 90% of what’s being admitted to is for ulterior motives.”
While the app was designed with privacy in mind, Moran said her decision to use it will come down to cost-benefit analysis rather than assurances from tech companies.
“I don’t think you can trust what they say is in the permissions anyway,” she said. “I might turn the Bluetooth on if it doesn’t drain my battery.”
To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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