Smartphone Apps Can Alert About Unknown COVID Exposure

Cars line up for mobile COVID testing in the parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church in Southampton Village on Monday. DANA SHAW

With COVID-19 infections again on the rise, health officials are urging residents to install apps on their smartphones that will allow them to be alerted if they have been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive for a coronavirus infection.

Several states, including New York, have set up apps that will anonymously track the phones of anyone who has them installed, and records health data entered by the user. If a person tests positive and logs it into their smartphone, the app will trace their recent movements and alert the owners of any phones that came into close proximity of theirs in the days prior, so that others can quarantine themselves and get tested.

The New York State app is called COVID Alert NY and is available on the Apple and Android app centers for free. Signing into them is anonymous and the apps use no specific information about the phone’s owner other than location. A positive diagnosis would have to be logged by the owner.

“Knowing about a potential exposure allows you to self-quarantine immediately, get tested and reduce the potential risk to your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers,” the state Department of Health said in a statement rolling out the app. “The more people who download COVID Alert NY, the more effective it will be.”