Molly Magarik

Worried about COVID-19? There's an app for that. 

Governor John Carney introduced Tuesday a new app that will notify Delawareans when they may have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for novel coronavirus COVID-19. 

"I'm really excited to announce the launch of an important new tool for fighting COVID-19, that is going to rest in the palm of your hand," said newly installed Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Molly Magarik. "It's a free anonymous exposure notification mobile app that's called COVID  Alert DE, and COVID Alert DE is going to use Bluetooth low energy technology that is provided by Apple and Google, and it's going to alert users if you come into close contact--which we defined as [within] less than six feet for 15 minutes or more--with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19."

The app is free, anonymous, and aids contact tracing effort to keep individuals informed of their potential COVID status. The app is available for both Androids and iPhones on the Google Play and App Store, respectively. It will only be available to users who live, work, or attend school in Delaware and are 18 years of age or older.

The app prompts users to log their health status regularly, but, if a user provides a secret 6-digit code, the app runs in the background and pings nearby phones that may be running the same app. Users are encouraged to upload their own confirmed positive COVID-19 status should that occur, and any phone which has been detected running the app nearby during the time one would be contagious would then be alerted that they, too, should get checked for COVID-19. 

"Contact tracers will give them a six digit code that they choose to enter into their phone. [Entering the code] triggers their phone to upload special key, and those anonymous keys are checked against the list of random keys that they have encountered on other users phones over the last few days," Magarik said. "If there's a match, the COVID Alert DE app will then send an exposure notification alert to those individual app users, taking into account the date and the duration of the exposure."

No location data is collected or used by the COVID Alert DE app, Magarik said. The app only communicates with other phones running the app based off of the key system, and only sends alerts based on the exchange of those keys by devices, not of someone's location. 

"The COVID Alert DE app will protect your privacy by not collecting or sharing any personal information, such as name, address, or age, that can identify you. Again, we are not using GPS navigation, geocoding, or any other location services as part of this app," she said. "The app cannot be used to track you, the app does not know whether you are supposed to be self-quarantining or self-isolating, and the app does not know any personal details about the exposure alert that was sent to your phone. And so, since we do not know who you are and the app does not know who you are, it cannot reveal your identity at any point."

The app can help protect everyone, but only when a lot of people are using it. The more Delawareans who sign up, the more potential it has to notify individuals who may have been exposed and let them know they should get a test and avoid infecting others. 

It's also a much faster method for tracking who may have been in a potential situation of unknown exposure, like being around someone who was contagious before even that individual knew they had the virus. The phone takes care of notifying others expeditiously and anonymously. 

"What we need to be clear on, though, is it's not going to include everybody, because everybody's not going to voluntarily adopt it," said Carney. "And so, all the other things that we talk about--wearing a mask, keeping social distance, making sure you get tested from time to time, particularly if you think you're at risk or exposed--are important to do not just if you have the app and you haven't been pinged."