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Smartphone apps could help with COVID-19 contact tracing

Posted at 5:40 PM, Jun 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-26 05:51:21-04

EAST LANSING, MI (WILX) - — Michigan is no longer on the list of states on track to contain the coronavirus.

It was one of three states with that designation last week.

Covid Act Now downgraded Michigan to "controlled disease growth" because contact tracing needs improvement, something Apple and Google are hoping to help with by using a COVID-19 tracker on smartphones.

"Which is going to be incredibly helpful in terms of contract tracing," said Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail.

Apple and Google already installed COVID-19 trackers on smartphones as part of a software update.

It works only if you have certain apps on your phone and if you turn it on.

It's designed to let you know if you've been in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus.

"It creates a Bluetooth ability to identify people you've been within 6 feet of for certain periods of time," Vail said.

Apple said the tracker uses a series of numbers and stores those numbers you've been close to for 14 days. Vail said this could make it easier to get a handle on how outbreaks, like the one at Harper's Restaurant & Brew Pub in East Lansing.

At least 43 people tested positive so far in that outbreak.

Right now, the contact tracing is done by hand.

"Calling them, identifying whether they've had symptoms, getting them tested, finding more. Then calling the contacts to those people. It just continues from there until you've finally got a circle around it," said Vail.

Vail said that it can be more difficult in situations like at a bar because you don't always know everyone you've been around.

"These can be very useful tools in rapidly, very rapidly, we've done this fairly rapidly, but even more rapidly identify who may have been exposed," she said.

However, not everyone wants the COVID-19 tracker setting turned on in their phones.

"I feel that's just another personal space, into our personal freedom," said Tom Morgan. "I'm not big on apps, I'm not giving my information out like that. Because you have these hackers."

"I don't know if we're doing anything more intrusive than the GPS on your device is already doing," said Vail.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said this technology has not been implemented in the state.

Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued a letter of concern about the technology.

For contact tracing to work, the health department said you need to answer your phone, even if you don't recognize the number.