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AlohaSafe Alert app will notify users alert about COVID-19 exposure

  • COURTESY PHOTO

    COURTESY PHOTO

The state’s AlohaSafe Alert app, a free exposure notification app intended to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, is now live statewide.

The app, which is downloadable for free from Apple or Google Play, is designed to alert users if they have been exposed to the new coronavirus using Bluetooth technology. It was launched by the Hawaii Department of Health in partnership with aio Digital and the Hawaii Executive Collaborative, and is the state’s official COVID-19 exposure notification app.

It was first piloted on Lanai and in Hana, Maui, in mid-November, then went live in Maui County shortly after, followed by Hawaii County in December. Today, the app went live on Kauai and Oahu.

“Masks, distance and vaccines are all valuable tools against COVID-19,” said state Health Department Director Dr. Libby Char in a news release. “The AlohaSafe Alert app is another important tool in the fight against COVID-19. This innovative app was developed for the community, by the community, and it has the potential to greatly increase the speed of the exposure notification process, allowing anyone who receives an alert to quickly self-quarantine and get tested if needed.”

The use of the app is intended to supplement, not replace, contact tracing efforts by the state Health Department. It is part of a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 by anonymously alerting people if they have potentially been exposed, allowing them to self-quarantine, get tested and seek medical advice sooner rather than later.

After the app is downloaded, the smartphone uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously communicate with other phones that have a Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) application. Devices with the app will automatically “ping” each other, measuring the strength of the Bluetooth signal and the duration of interaction.

Once the Department of Health confirms a person has become infected with COVID-19, the person with the app will be sent a verification code to anonymously notify others of possible exposure within 48 hours. Notifying others is optional.

The notification will be triggered if phones were in proximity to one another in the past 14 days, at a distance of 6 feet or less for at least 15 minutes. Privacy is protected, according to officials. Recipients of the notifications will not know who exposed them, or where they were exposed.

More than a dozen other U.S. states, including California, Washington, and the District of Columbia are participating in the GAEN system, with their own versions of the app, which are interoperable with the AlohaSafe Alert app. In California, the app is known as CA notify, and in Washington as WA Notify.

But the app is only useful if people actually download it and use it.

An estimated 1 million people in Hawaii have smartphones, based on state Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism statistics, according to Lynelle Marble, executive director of Hawaii Executive Collaborative.

The partnership’s goal is to get 15% of the state’s population to download the app, which equates to about 150,000 people. Based on a study, this can decrease COVID-19 infections by 8% and deaths by 6%.

To date, there have been about 13,700 downloads and 235 notifications issued in Hawaii.

The app is compatible with Androids Version 6 or above and iPhones with OS 13.7 or greater, although there are efforts underway to make it more broadly accessible. It does not work on iPads or tablets.

The state Health Department launched the app with about $90,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds, while the private sector donated about $25,000.

Visit alohasafealert.org for more information.

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