Minnesota Launches COVIDaware Tracking App

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Day 242: Stay Safe Minnesota

Gov Tim Walz unveiled COVIDaware MN, a mobile tacking app, and encouraged Minnesotans to voluntarily use app to alert close contacts and help slow the spread of the pandemic.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced on Monday (Nov 23, 2020) news conference a COVID-19 tracking mobile app — COVIDaware MN — that is available immediate download to Minnesotans. “The COVIDaware MN application, similar to those in use in several other states, depends on people downloading the program and sending out an alert if they test positive for the virus. Neither will happen automatically for smartphone users” writes Brian Bakst in the MPR News.

COVIDaware MN gives our state a powerful and anonymous new tool to alert others we’ve had close contact with — even people we don’t know — and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Tim Walz, Governor of Minnesota (source: Star Tribune)
Source: COVIDaware MN website

The App is Voluntary

According to Gov. Walz and MN IT Services Commissioner Tarek Tomes the app is entirely voluntary. “For those concerned about medical privacy of themselves or others, the app is built on voluntary participation and a level of encryption that separates the identities of users from the data they supply,” writes the MPR News. Commissioner Tomes told to reporters “If communities are willing to adopt the app, use it, report positive test results, and follow health recommendations when notified of exposure, this app can help us return to many of the activities we miss so much and save lives”.

“It’s a pull-in app, which means the data can come to your smartphone but nothing of value leaves your smartphone. The only thing that leaves your phone is a random number, which cannot be traced back to the phone that generated it. ”

Shashi Shekhar, University of Minnesota computer science professor (source: Star Tribune)

Minnesota reportedly developed the App along with the PathCheck Foundation and relies on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) notification technology from Apple and Google. According to the Tribune, North Dakota was an early adopter of the technology to link fans of North Dakota State Bison football into Care19 Alert. Now other states are also using the similar technology in COVID-19 apps to tack the virus.

How COVIDaware MN works?

According to the COVIDaware MN website, the App uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, that is commonly used in all mobile phone systems, for notification system. Minnesotans are encouraged to use the app to help reduce the risk of infection for your friends, family, and neighbors, and help slow the spread. The website explains working of the App the following steps:

  • Step 1: Download the free COVIDaware MN app from the iPhone App Store or the Android Google Play Store.
  • Step 2: Your phone remembers other devices it meets, but won’t identify you to anyone. Once you opt-in to the notification system, the app will generate an anonymous key for your phone—the key is a random number. To help ensure that these random keys can’t be used to identify you or your location, they change every 10-20 minutes.
  • Step 3: Your privacy is protected. No information that will identify you will ever leave your phone. Your phone and the phones around you work anonymously in the background, using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to exchange these privacy-protected keys. This is a passive process that begins once you opt-in. It functions without the app open, and it won’t won’t drain your battery.
  • Step 4: The app checks for positive COVID-19 cases every day. On a daily basis, your phone downloads a list of all the anonymous keys associated with positive COVID-19 cases and checks them against the list of random keys your phone has encountered in the last 14 days.
  • Step 5: The app will notify you if you may have been exposed to the coronavirus. If there’s a match, the app will notify you with further instructions from the Minnesota Department of Health about what you need to do to keep you and the people around you safe.

SafeDistance App

Earlier in May 2020, another COVID-19 tracking app called SafeDistance App, developed by HealthPartners Institute and researchers at the University of Minnesota and Modern Logic, using a crowdsourcing approach where people reporting anonymously.

According to the Tribune, uptake of SafeDistance App was slow because the app was not made available on the Google Play Store for Android phones and the developers needed an endorsement from the Minnesota Department of Health to provide the app on that platform. “Walz accepted responsibility for slow rollout of the technology in Minnesota, saying he wanted all security and privacy concerns addressed first”.

Latest Covid-19 Updates

The CNN’s Nov. 23 latest coronavirus updates in the Minnesota included the following:

  • The state health department is reporting 6,353 new cases today, bringing the total to 276,500. There are 1,778 patients hospitalized with the virus, 364 of those in ICUs across Minnesota. 
  • The 7-day positivity rate is 15.2% the health department says. 
  • Minnesota Governor Tim Walz today announced a new app, COVIDaware Minnesota, to help identify if you’ve been around someone who has tested positive for the virus.
  • In a press conference announcing the new app, Walz said that if you have the app and test positive, you’ll input the code and it will notify everyone who was within a 6-feet radius for 15 minutes or more that they have been exposed. Walz said that there is no data tracking, and no data is sent to the Minnesota Department of Health or to Google or Apple. 
  • Walz said that Minnesota is the 20th state to utilize this technology and he hopes as many Minnesotans as possible will download it. 
Coronavirus Pandemic Watch

According to the MDH latest tally (as of Nov 24, 11 a.m.) the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota are 282,916 (out of 3,891,159 tested) with 3,303 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins database (as of Nov 24, 3:26 p.m.) there are 12,540,696 confirmed covid19 infection with 259,256 deaths. Globally the covid19 virus has infected 59,583,568 with 1,405,336 deaths.