TRENTON, NJ – The state is piloting a mobile app that will notify residents if they have been in close, prolonged contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said state employees as well as students from Montclair State University, Stockton University and Passaic County Community College have been testing the app.
“You might not even know you were exposed, but the app will tell you,” she said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 news briefing. “The app can alert users if they have been potentially exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and provide information on what to do next.”
For those who fear that Big Brother will be using the app to peer into their personal information, Persichilli said that it does not use location data nor collect personal information.
The state is turning to technology to help fight the spread of COVID-19 as New Jersey’s corps of 1,800 or so contact tracers continue to meet with resistance.
At the Sept. 11 briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said 18% of those called by contact tracers don’t answer the phone, and 59% of those reached refuse to provide further contacts.
Wednesday, Persichilli cited a CDC study that focused on contact tracing programs in North Carolina. In fact, “a high proportion of persons” with COVID-19 did not report their contacts, rending contact tracing efforts ineffective since they depend on timeliness and compliance to interrupt virus transmission.
She said the app will communicate through Bluetooth on mobile devises. It will detect and log anonymous codes from devices with the app that are in close contact, within six feet of a user for 10 minutes or longer.
The app will also offer daily COVID-19 statistics on such things as new cases, hospitalizations by county and deaths.
The testing period should conclude by the end of the week, but it’s not clear when the app will be available to download, Persichilli said. The 130 or so individuals testing it have given the app 4.6 out of five stars.
The promise of using technology to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 comes on a day when the state announced 430 new cases, bringing the total cases to 200,988.
The spot positivity rate is 1.93% and the rate of transmission is at 1.15%.
The state reported seven new confirmed COVID-19 deaths, bringing the death toll to 14,291. The state also lists another 1,791 probable deaths.
Persichilli also said that state officials have received reports of positive cases in schools, and that they are being contact traced to determine if in-school transmissions have occurred.
“We’ve said it countless times, it’s inevitable,” Murphy said. “So, we’ve known we’ve had cases in schools. We just haven’t been able to tie it down for sure whether it was in the school or through some other non-school activity. It’s been a heavy does of non-school activity up until now, but it’s just a matter of time.”