Updated: November 23, 2020 05:35 PM
Created: November 23, 2020 08:21 AM
Monday, the state of Minnesota unveiled a new piece of technology to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
The new exposure notification application is now available for download.
The app, COVIDaware MN, uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to notify Minnesotans if they've been exposed to COVID-19.
"We're in the most challenging time of this pandemic, we're also in the most hopeful time of the pandemic," Walz said, highlighting recent news regarding possible vaccines and now the development of the state's new app.
Once downloaded onto a phone, the app generates an anonymous key for that phone, which is changed every 10 to 20 minutes to protect the data.
Each day, the app will then download a list of keys associated with positive COVID-19 cases and check them against the list of keys the phone has encountered in the past 14 days. If there's a match, the app will notify the user with instructions from the Minnesota Department of Health about what to do, like get tested and quarantine.
Anyone who receives a positive COVID-19 test can call MDH at 651-201-5414 and ask for a positive test verification code for the app. Once received, the user can upload the positive result to their app and it will anonymously notify other users within 12 to 24 hours that someone who came into contact with them tested positive for the virus.
"Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is a community effort," Minnesota Department of Information Technology Commissioner Tarek Tomes said. He noted that part of that is notifying people who came into contact with you when you test positive. While that can often be difficult, the app was created to make that much easier.
"If everything's done right, you'll never have to use this hopefully," Walz said, but if you do end up getting the virus, "this is your chance to be a good citizen," he said.
Downloading the app is voluntary and anonymous, and the state says the app:
"I want to encourage all Minnesotans, visitors and anyone who spends any time in the state, to download COVIDaware MN," Tomes said.
"Every little bit that we can do to put an end to this virus is so important," he added.
The state also says users can't upload a fake positive result, as the test is always verified by a public health authority before a code is sent. The app also doesn't track users' locations, as it only knows when it comes within range of another phone that has the app installed.
More than 20 states in the U.S. are using similar apps, according to Walz.
Ehresmann said, in contact tracing, people often have to try to remember where they were and who they were around when they might've been infectious, which can be extremely difficult. The app can make it a lot easier and quicker to notify those who were possibly exposed.
The app was created by the state in partnership with the nonprofit PathCheck Foundation, an organization founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that develops COVID-19 apps for digital contact tracing.
Monday afternoon, Ehresmann noted, "At our current pace, we'll eclipse 300,000 cases this week." She said that has made it extremely difficult for MDH contact tracers to keep up with the surging number of cases.
As of Monday, 1,178 COVID-19 patients are currently in Minnesota hospitals, with 364 in intensive care units.
The state's seven-day average positivity rate now stands at 15.2%, up from 13.7% last week.
Walz noted that he and his staff worked over the weekend with state legislative leaders to create a bill to help local businesses. Walz said he will put out his legislative package on Tuesday and call a special session as soon as it can be passed, even if it's as soon as Tuesday.
Walz said no agreement had been reached as of Monday but he's hoping for bipartisan support to get something done to help businesses with tax relief, direct relief for workers and other benefits. He also called on Congress to do the same.
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