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Colorado launches COVID-19 exposure notifications via cellphone

Opt-in message hits smartphones Sunday
Colorado’s newest COVID-19 exposure notification system is set to launch Sunday, when Coloradans will receive a notice on their cellphones with instructions to opt-in.

Colorado’s newest COVID-19 exposure notification system is set to launch Sunday, when Coloradans will receive a notice on their cellphones with instructions to opt-in.

The system alerts people if they have been in close proximity to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus. It’s part of the state’s effort to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, particularly as cases have begun to rise in recent weeks.

“We are currently losing ground nationally and here in Colorado to this deadly virus, but we are just launching a new weapon to defeat it,” said Gov. Jared Polis in a news release. “By alerting users to potential COVID-19 exposure, Coloradans can take quick steps in order to limit exposure and risk to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.”

CO Exposure Notifications is a free and voluntary service that will be available to Android and Apple iPhone users, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

When two people have activated the exposure notifications on their smartphones and come in close proximity to one another, their phones log that close interaction for 14 days.

If a user tests positive for COVID-19 within that two-week period, the service alerts anyone who was exposed to the positive person long enough to risk an infection.

The alert includes instructions for recommended next steps, including information about quarantine and contacting their local public health agency.

CO Exposure Notifications relies on participation to work.

People have to opt-in and have their phone’s Bluetooth enabled for the service to catch a possible exposure.

Anyone who tests positive also must upload their results to the system – their identity will not be shared with anyone, according to the CO Exposure Notifications website, addyourphone.com.

In exposure notification models developed by Oxford University, researchers have estimated that if only 15% of the population enables exposure notifications, regions could see a reduction in infections of 8% and deaths by 6%, CDPHE said.

“Enable CO Exposure Notifications on your iPhone or Android to help save lives,” Polis said. “(It) is an important new feature for Coloradans to make smart and informed health decisions for themselves, their loved ones and our small businesses.”

CDPHE said the system will not compromise the privacy of Coloradans.

For example, the service relies on Bluetooth technology, not GPS tracking, to gauge proximity. It does not track participants’ locations.

It does not collect, transmit or store any personal information.

The service uses anonymous tokens, shared through Bluetooth, to send alerts. The tokens are not associated with any phone number, name, location or IP address. They change every 15 minutes to add an extra layer of anonymity, according to CDPHE.

“We understand the importance of privacy and security and have taken extensive steps to ensure personal information is not collected, stored or transmitted through the use of CO Exposure Notifications,” said Sarah Tuneberg, CO Exposure Notifications service lead, in a news release.

smullane@durangoherald.com

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