MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday new technology to help Minnesotans slow the spread of COVID-19.
At a noontime press conference, he unveiled a new app that helps inform users if they’ve been exposed to the virus. The app is called COVIDaware MN, and it’s free to download. About 20 other states are also using the app’s technology, the governor said.
“It is painless, it is free, it is secure,” Walz told reporters, adding that the app doesn’t track users’ location or collect personal data.
Here’s how the app works: If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they can request a code from health officials that they can put into the app, if they so choose. This code will then alert other app users if they’ve recently come within six feet of the infected individual. Those who are exposed are then alerted and can seek testing.
“I want to be clear to Minnesotans,” the governor said. “This is an opt-in alternative. You don’t have to put the code into your phone, and you don’t have to notify others around you. I would strongly encourage, if not beg you, please do so.”
Tarek Tomes, the head of Minnesota IT Services, explained at the press conference that the app technology was created through a ground-breaking partnership between Google and Apple, with a focus on security.
The app does not track users’ location and it doesn’t share personal data with technology companies, Tomes said. What the app does use is mobile phone Bluetooth technology to record proximity to other app users. Each user is given a random number, and the app records the general proximity and timeframe of when the phones were near each other.
“If communities are willing to adopt the app, use it to report positive test results and follow health recommendations when notified of an exposure, this app can help us return to many of the activities we miss so much, and save lives,” Tomes said.
The announcement of the app comes as Minnesota is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Since the weekend, the state has counted nearly 20,000 new infections and 115 deaths. If these trends continue, Minnesota’s total COVID-19 case tally is expected to breach the 300,000 benchmark by Thanksgiving, health officials say. Currently, the state’s death toll stands at 3,265.