New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that the state will launch a new coronavirus infection contact tracing app that will help users know when they come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The new app, named "Covid Alert NY," uses the Bluetooth-based tracing software that was developed by Apple
"We have about 15,000 people statewide who do contact tracing. We call them 'disease detectives.' But we've been looking for a technology-based solution," Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters, quoted by CNBC. "The app will know where a person who testing positive was through their cell phone, and the app can tell you if you were within six feet of that person."
New York is the largest state so far to adopt the tech giants' technology, and will expand the app's boundaries to include other apps from Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as their populations are closely tied.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also announced on Thursday that New Jersey will be launching a similar app that using the pair's technology, with Connecticut also deploying its own an app shortly.
Apple's and Google's tracing technology notably does not use or store private user information or data; the app does not track locations but using Bluetooth technology to alert users when they have connected to a device of an infected individual.
Like other contact tracing technologies, the app relies on voluntary public adoption, meaning the app will be more effective with more users downloading and using it. But like other virtual containment strategies, any level of adoption can help save lives.
A recent study conducted by Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Medicine in partnership with Google found that contract tracing apps help reduce infection rates, hospitalizations, and fatalities at nearly any level of adoption. The technology was shown to also help mitigate spread further when used alongside other viral-countermeasures like social distancing and facial coverings.
Researchers used models of three counties in Washington state in the study, simulating individual interactions including households, workplaces, schools as well as random encounters. The model simulations accounted for use of digital contact tracing tools adopted at various levels from 15% of the population to 75%, with 75% adoption effectively accounting for all smartphone users.
The study found that is 75% of a population used a contact tracing app, deaths due to COVID-19 could be reduced by about 78% and infections could decline by 81% over a 300-day period. Moreover, even at the low 15% adoption level, deaths could be reduced by nearly 12% and infection rates could drop by 15%, representing potentially thousands of lives saved over the same timeline.
The new app roll out in New York state comes as the state is experiencing new upticks and "hotspots" of infection after the area had relatively brought its outbreak down to manageable levels of spread.
Most states in the United States only conduct manual contact tracing, meaning contacts are notified of potential infection from public health investigators. This method can allow for missed individuals, which can prolong community spread of the virus.
Currently, Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia are the only other states that use Apple's and Google's Bluetooth-technology, with Alabama, Delaware, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wyoming using other state developed technologies.