Coronavirus tracing apps launching in 3 more states        

Apps warning about exposure to the novel coronavirus are being launched in three more states. Alabama, North Dakota and Wyoming are the latest states in the U.S. to warn users about potential exposure to COVID-19 by tracking their encounters through an app on their phone, according to a report in Reuters.

Virginia was the first state to implement the app that was developed by Apple and Google, the outlet reported.

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North Dakota launched its app, Care19 Alert, on Thursday, and Wyoming will release one Friday. Both apps were developed by ProudCrowd, which was announced during an online event about pandemic technology hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-affiliated Responsible Data Foundation, Reuters stated.

Meanwhile, Alabama is planning to market its app, called GuideSafe, on Monday, after testing it among some university staff and students, Sue Feldman, director of graduate programs in health informatics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the news outlet.

The apps are similar to the one in Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) website, Virginia residents are using an app called COVIDWISE. The app notifies the phone user if they’ve been exposed to a person positive for the coronavirus who also has the app. This allows the notified user to self-quarantine and quickly seek medical care, thus reducing exposing others to the virus, according to the health department.

“The more Virginians who use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention,” per the health department.

Several states are relying on smartphone apps to alert users of COVID-19 exposure. (iStock)

The app works by exchanging Bluetooth signals with other app users the person encounters, tracking date, duration and proximity of exposure, the website explained. A positive test result submitted by an app user is checked against the list of other app users that were encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE will notify an individual they have been exposed while maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of the positive COVID patient.

The agency stated that no personal information is collected, stored or transmitted to VDH.

“Every user decides whether or not to opt-in to receive Exposure Notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not they share their result through COVIDWISE,” the health department states.

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One of the challenges the app developers face, according to Reuters, is finding a way to get the different apps to communicate with one another, especially if a person travels from state to state. So far, North Dakota is the only state with an app that has that capability.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that this technology “may decrease the burden of manual contact elicitation, help to identify contacts in a timelier manner, facilitate communication with contacts, and help ensure rapid isolation of contacts to interrupt the chain of transmission.”

The technology also helps to alert the user in the event they unknowingly come into contact with an infected person. However, there are some disadvantages, per the CDC, such as users needing to have a phone on them at all times, and concerns over security.