Despite 300K downloads, more participation needed to optimize COVID-19 exposure app

Gov. Tim Walz first introduced the COVIDaware MN app to Minnesotans just before Thanksgiving.

In the first couple days, 90,000 people downloaded the app. That number has since tripled to about 305,000 — 7% of Minnesota’s estimated 4.4 million cell phone users.

The app is designed to alert users if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, but officials say it needs many more users to maximize its effectiveness.

"The more people that bring their phones to this fight against COVID the better this is going to work, and at the 10-15% mark, according to the research and other settings, we’ll already start to see pretty pronounced impacts on slowing the spread," Minnesota IT Commissioner Tarek Tomes said.

Fear that the government might be tracking a user’s every move is what Tomes cites as one of the biggest obstacles in getting more people to download the app — something he says is not true.

"The data privacy of it is absolutely critical for us," he said. "No information is ever transferred to the state. Identity information isn’t provided to Google or Apple. Location information is never provided to anyone."

The app works when people who would be complete strangers come in close contact with each other and one of them later reports a positive COVID-19 test. Anyone who was close to that person for 15 minutes or more would get a notification of a possible exposure.

Tomes says over 1,200 Minnesotans have gotten such warnings about potential exposures to the coronavirus.

Click here to learn how to download the COVIDaware app.