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State of Delaware launches Covid-19 tracing app

Europe might have taken the lead in the concept of Covid-19 proximity tracing, but the US state of Delaware has now launched its own dedicated contact-tracing app, aiming to emulate countries such as Germany, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Latvia, which have led the European Union’s technical response to the pandemic.

Officially launched by state governor John Carney, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and the Delaware Department of Technology and Information on Tuesday 15 September, Covid Alert DE is available immediately from the Apple App Store or Google Play to anyone aged 18 or older who lives, works or attends college in Delaware.

The app uses Bluetooth Low Energy and API technology from Google and Apple to enable mobile phones with the app to recognise when they are near other phones also running the app and then securely and anonymously alert users who have been in close contact with someone who tested 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.

Covid Alert DE does not collect or share personal information that can identify users. The app also does not use GPS location data to detect the location of users or track movements. Delawareans identified as close contacts of positive cases may receive an alert from the app, and be contacted by the Division of Public Health’s contact-tracing team. An exposure alert on Covid Alert DE alone will not trigger a call from Delaware contact tracers.

It is also designed to allow for interoperability and exposure notifications across US state lines in states that also have exposure notification apps and use the same technology developed by Apple and Google.

State authorities say that by downloading Covid Alert DE, Delawareans can use their phones in the fight against the pandemic without compromising privacy or personal information. They stress that the app is not a substitute for basic precautionary measures – including mask-wearing, social distancing in public, and frequent handwashing.

“This app is an important tool to help Delawareans understand the risks of Covid-19, and to help fight community spread of this virus,” said Carney. “Knowing you’ve had a potential exposure and taking the basic precautions is the best way to protect your most vulnerable family members, friends and neighbours who are at risk of serious illness. I would encourage all Delawareans to download this app and help in our fight against Covid-19.”

Molly Magarik, secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, added: “Covid Alert DE is a new and important tool in the fight against Covid-19 because it supplements the work of the Division of Public Health’s contact-tracing teams. Typical contact-tracing relies on an individual remembering the names of people they have been in contact with – and for how long. Using the Covid Alert DE app will help to speed up the process of notifying close contacts and identifying close contacts.

“Because we expect younger people to embrace the app at higher rates, we are especially pleased that the University of Delaware and Delaware State University are prepared to promote the app among their students and staff.”  

Covid Alert DE was created in partnership with 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, days ago, Scotland.

“The Covid Alert DE mobile app puts power in citizens’ hands to protect each other in the fight against Covid-19,” said NearForm CEO Cian O’Maidin. “The open source technology was built with privacy and data protection at its core. The app exchanges regularly-changing anonymous Bluetooth ID to break transmission chains.

“The state of Delaware has taken a great approach, using technology that has been peer reviewed and rolled out successfully in Ireland and parts of the UK. We look forward to working with them to slow the spread of the virus.”

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