State universities in Connecticut have joined the pilot program for a contact-tracing app that state officials hope all residents of the state can download beginning next week.
The app, which was developed through a collaboration between Apple and Google, uses Bluetooth technology to track and notify people when someone close to them has tested positive for the virus.
The universities began testing the app last Friday, according to Leigh Appleby, director of communications for Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education. He said in an email that, while he didn’t know yet how many people had signed up, the colleges were “encouraged” by the interest they had seen so far in the program.
Users who activate the app are assigned a four-digit token that changes every 10-20 minutes to maximize privacy. When the person comes into contact with another person who has the app, the phones exchange tokens. If two people are in close contact — defined as being within six feet of one another for more than 15 minutes in one day — that token is added to the app’s “close contact” list.
If someone with the app tests positive for COVID-19, they will receive a verification code from a contact tracer, which they can plug into the app. The app will alert all those who have been in contact with the individual in the past 14 days.
Ten states have already rolled out a similar app, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and three others, including Connecticut, are launching pilot programs.
Lora Rae Anderson, spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, said in an email that college students were in a “unique position” to participate in the launch.
“They are traditionally great with technology,” she said. Anderson added that, since many of the students would probably be traveling over Thanksgiving, it would be a good idea for them to start learning how to use the app now.
Appleby said that while he hasn’t heard about any resistance to the program on campuses, he knows that maintaining privacy is extremely important for students. Privacy has also been a concern with similar apps used in both South Korea and Europe and this has been a major deterrent to widespread use.
According to the Connecticut Department of Health website, Connecticut’s Covid app does not track location, and it does not collect the user’s name or their personal information.
“No one will have access to your identity,” said Anderson. “Not Apple, not Google, and not DPH.”
Anderson said that the program’s success depends on getting people to download the app.
According to a study published in MedRxiv in September, if 15 percent of a population signs on to use a contact-tracing app, it can reduce infections by eight percent and deaths by six percent.
Anderson doesn’t have a target percentage for how many people in Connecticut need to download the app in order for it to be effective. She said it depends more on who downloads it than how many people do.
“If [the] half of the state that stays at home all of the time downloads it – that may not be as helpful as those who go into work every day, do grocery shopping for family members, etc.” she wrote.
While Anderson pointed out that the app is meant to supplement, rather than take the place of, traditional contact tracing, she said that the state is hopeful that the app can reach a larger pool of individuals who have come into contact with a Covid-positive case.
“If this allows even a small handful of people to be alerted that they have been exposed, and they take the right steps, that could stop a domino effect of infecting dozens or even hundreds of other people,” she said.
Connecticut reported a 3.7 percent positivity rate as of Monday.
Gov. Ned Lamont announced last Thursday several steps to curb the spread of the virus, including a suggested curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., restrictions on high school sports, reduction of restaurants to 50 percent capacity and a cap of 10 people on all private gatherings. The app will be available to all Connecticut residents by November 13. Instructions for download on iPhone and Android are on the state website.