I searched innocently through the randomly organized Settings app on the iPhone yesterday morning (see still-apropos “Bad Apple # 2: Alphabetize Settings in iOS, ”21. February 2018), when I noticed the Exposure Alerts option. I had not checked in since the first release (see “iOS 13.7 integrates Apple’s COVID-19 exposure alerts, ”1. September 2020), so I broke through and was surprised to hear that the state of New York now has an app that is compatible with Apple / Google notification technology. I’m watching closely, but this was the first thing I heard about such an app. It turned out I was just lucky ̵
Getting the app turned out to be a little more challenging. The Open App Store link included an App Store article that discussed exposure alert technology and listed some apps, but did not include the New York app it promised at the top. Hopefully that has changed now; I can not find the article anymore.
A search of the App Store revealed the COVID Alert NY app, and I was interested to see to what extent the state emphasizes the privacy aspects of the technology and approach. Just look at how many times they mention privacy in the description. (Click on an image to see it larger.)
The first screen on the app also has a Learn How It Works link, which opens a four-screen tutorial that does an excellent job of summarizing the complex system that Apple and Google developed (for full details, see Glenn Fleishman’s Apple and Google Partner for privacy protection of COVID-19 contact tracking and notification, “April 10, 2020, and David Shayers” Former Apple Engineer: Here I trust Apple’s COVID-19 notification proposal, “May 11, 2020).
Back on the home screen, press the Get Started button, get an explanation of why the app needs to request COVID-19 exposure logging and alerts, present these permission requests, and then confirm that everything is set up.
It even offers a Share button that, when I used it to send me a text message, generated a message and provided a link to a COVID Alert NY website (which continues to hammer out privacy). If you are a New Yorker and get the app, I highly recommend you share it widely with family, friends and colleagues. (It’s also an Android version, so you don’t have to worry about confusing your friends with a green bubble with an iOS app.)
To give you a reason to load the app regularly, which is useful for keeping the whole concept of exposure alert fresh in the minds of users, the app provides three graphs for both the state as a whole and for each county. The graphs show the percentage of COVID-19 tests that have returned positive, the total number of positive and the total number of tests given, throughout the last month.
All three figures are useful because they show the differences even in nearby counties. For example, I live in Tompkins County, where we had an increase in early September related to thousands of Cornell University students returning to campus. Cornell quickly brought it under control with excellent contract tracking and quarantine for exposed students, and our infection rate is back to well below 1%. The more rural neighborhood of Tioga County, where I grew up and has about half the population, has particularly higher infection rates. However, a look at the other graphs shows that it only tests a few hundred people a day, while Cornell’s aggressive regime of testing each student twice a week means that Tompkins County does more than 5,000 tests most days and nearly beat 11,000. September 30. 2020.
The next large area of the app, which you can access during setup and via a button in the bottom toolbar, is My Health Log, which helps you keep track of your own health and provide anonymized data to public health researchers. Users are encouraged to report daily, presumably to help provide a baseline if symptoms appear.
The last part of the app is about what to do if you test positive for COVID-19. The app tells you that you must be at home and isolate yourself for 14 days, after which it is explained that a public health representative will call with more information and ways you can get help. They will also ask if you are willing to share the app’s list of short contact codes, and if you are, they will give you a six-digit number that triggers the upload of your codes so that others can be notified – completely anonymously. ! – that they may have come in contact with you.
Overall, I am impressed. The app is clear, clean and polished, and does a good job of giving users a reason to install it beyond the civic duty to protect other New Yorkers. I hope similar apps from other states and countries are at least as good, and if you’ve used one, please let us know in the comments.
And of course, if you live in New York, you need to install and configure the app to protect yourself, those close to you and others in your community!