Pennsylvania launches COVID Alert PA app to help mitigate virus spread

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine are encouraging Pennsylvanians to download COVID Alert PA, a COVID-19 exposure notification app designed to help fight the spread of the virus.

COVID Alert PA uses Exposure Notification System technology developed by Apple and Google to detect if a user has been in close contact with another user who later tested positive for COVID-19. Users who may have been exposed to the virus will receive a notification to their phone called a “COVID-19 Exposure Alert,” along with public health guidance on what to do next.

“This app is a simple tool you can use to help fight COVID-19 every day, everywhere you go,” said Wolf. “I encourage you to visit your app store and download it for free today.”

Penn State is asking community members to do the same and utilize the app to help support existing virus monitoring and contact tracing efforts at the University. 

“This resource can only help to complement Penn State’s established contact tracing process, and we encourage all students, faculty and staff to download and use the app,” said Kelly Wolgast, director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center. “As we work to slow the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses, this technology offered by the state supports quick and continuous notifications to individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.” 

The app, which also helps users track potential COVID-19 symptoms and provides statewide virus statistics from the Department of Health’s COVID-19 data dashboard, is available on smartphones from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Penn State also offers a symptom checker tool via the Penn State Go app.

“We all play a part in stopping the spread of COVID-19, which is why I am encouraging every Pennsylvanian to add their phone to the fight and download COVID Alert PA today,” Levine said. “By utilizing this technology, we can quickly notify more people who have been exposed to COVID-19.”

The COVID Alert PA app helps support traditional contact tracing processes. When the health department contacts a COVID-19-positive individual to discuss their diagnosis, learn how they are feeling, and understand who may have been exposed to them, the public health representative will provide a unique six-digit validation code to the individual to enter into the app. Once this step is completed, the app will be able to alert other app users who, over the preceding two weeks, have been within six feet of the COVID-19-positive individual for longer than 15 minutes. This exposure alert does not reveal the identity of the COVID-19-positive individual or their whereabouts.

According to the Department of Health, the app does not enable any location services or track anyone, and it is designed to be completely anonymous. The Exposure Notification System works by using Bluetooth Low Energy technology, which allows phones with the app to recognize when it is close to another phone.

“We are very committed to and conscious of protecting the privacy and security of all Pennsylvanians,” Levine said. “COVID Alert PA will not track your location or collect any personal information from you — it is simply an exposure notification tool. The app uses Bluetooth technology to send a notification if someone has been in close contact with an individual who later tested positive for COVID-19. This is the same technology that your smartphone uses to connect to your wireless Bluetooth headphones or your car. The app will never ask you to turn on your location.”

While use of the app is voluntary, Levine said that the more people who adopt the technology, the more successful it can be at quickly notifying individuals who may have been exposed to the virus and containing the spread of infection. 

Additional information about the app and answers to frequently asked questions are available at https://www.pa.gov/covid/covid-alert-pa/. For the latest news about Penn State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit virusinfo.psu.edu

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