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AlohaSafe app aims to slow COVID-19 as deaths increase

The state Health Department officially launched its new AlohaSafe Alert app, along with a new media campaign targeting Hawaii’s youth on Wednesday as the daily COVID-19 case count and death toll continued to rise.

On Wednesday, the department reported 10 new coronavirus-related deaths and 143 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 299 fatalities and 22,310 cases.

The 10 additional coronavirus-related deaths occurred between Nov. 12 and Dec. 19, and involved seniors with underlying conditions. All but one had been hospitalized.

On Oahu, they included four men in their 60s, one of whom died at home; two men in their 70s; and a man and two women in their 80s. The Maui victim was a man in his 70s.

The new statewide infection cases include 85 on Oahu, 29 on Maui, eight on Hawaii island, three on Kauai, one on Molokai and 17 residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

According to the Hawaii COVID-19 data dashboard, a total of 115 patients with the virus were in Hawaii hospitals as of 8:30 a.m. Monday, with 18 in intensive care units and 15 on ventilators.

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

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.

“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 app was first piloted on Lanai and in Hana, Maui, in mid-November, then went live in Maui County shortly after, with the support of Mayor Michael Victorino, followed by Hawaii County at the end of December. On Wednesday, the app went live on Kauai and Oahu.

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 — which runs in the background and does not need to be open — will automatically “ping” each other, measuring the Bluetooth signal strength and 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 by text to anonymously notify others of a possible exposure.

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 and use it.

The state’s goal is to get 15% of Hawaii’s smartphone owners 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 Android versions 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 other tablets.

The cost to develop the app was about $115,000 — with $90,000 from the state Health Department using federal coronavirus relief funds, and $25,000 from the private sector.

Additionally, the department launched its “Let’s Get Back to Real Life” campaign highlighting the COVID-19 trials and tribulations of the younger generation, including college students and restaurant workers.

The individuals highlighted ask others to mask up and comply with COVID-19 restrictions so that life and the economy in Hawaii can return to normal.

The public service announcements will air this week through March 7 on a variety of media, including broadcast television, radio, print, and digital, social, and streaming platforms.

Vaccination efforts also continued, with a focus on reaching health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by plans to vaccinate seniors 75 and older in the next week or so.

On Wednesday, the department announced that vaccination hubs have been set up at local hospitals to rapidly administer COVID-19 vaccines to independent health care workers.

Independent health care providers and staff who have not yet received a vaccination should complete an online survey developed by the Health Department to start the process.

Information collected from the survey will be sent to the closest participating hospital, which will then contact the health care provider to schedule a vaccination appointment.

ESTABLISHED COVID-19 VACCINATION HUBS FOR INDEPENDENT HEALTH CARE WORKERS

>> Kauai: Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall (Kauai.gov/vaccine)

>> Honolulu: Adventist Health Castle, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, Pali Momi Medical Center, Straub Medical Center, and The Queen’s Medical Center-Punchbowl and West Oahu

>> Maui: Maui Memorial Medical Center, Molokai General Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital

>> Hawaii island: Hilo Medical Center, Kona Community Hospital and North Hawaii Community Hospital

>> Health care providers with a Kaiser Permanente health plan can make an appointment for vaccinations at Kaiser’s Honolulu or Waipio clinic by calling 432-2000 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays)

Source: Hawaii Department of Health

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