COVID Alert App Is Newest Tool To Halting Spread Of COVID-19
HARTFORD — Governor Ned Lamont announced Thursday, November 12, that the State of Connecticut has launched its official COVID-19 exposure notification app, COVID Alert CT. The app, available for Apple and Android mobile devices, informs users if they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 — all without sharing any personal information.
In his news briefing later on Thursday, the governor was joined by Dr Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, as well as Josh Geballe, COO, Office of the Governor, and Chief of Staff Paul Mounds, as he encouraged Connecticut residents to download and use the new app. The COVID Alert app, said the governor, is a voluntary, “completely anonymous” means of helping residents know when they have had possible exposure to COVID-19 so they can then take steps to protect themselves and others. The fact that it is anonymous for users is “really important,” he emphasized, adding that downloading the app to smart phones is extremely easy.
“I urge you to do it now,” he encouraged listeners to Thursday’s briefing, saying that the more who choose to use the app, the more “exponentially effective” it will be.
The alert system will only work if people are willing to use it, the governor added, and observed that it has been tested in some of the college population over the past few weeks.
“It’s working,” he said.
Geballe weighed in on Thursday as well, addressing the app’s safety and privacy features. Google designed it with security in mind, he said, adding that ten other states have a similar app. It uses no personalized information, he stressed, and people should have no hesitation about downloading it.
The COO noted that the COVID Alert app does not replace traditional contact tracing, but is an additional tool that can help keep people safe. The more people who use it, he reiterated, the more effective it is.
Information provided in the November 12 press release from the Office of the Governor described how the new app works:
*First, users should visit ct.gov/covidalertct, where they can find instructions on how to download the app for their specific device.
[Apple device users, according to that site, should go to “Settings.” From there, scroll down to find “Exposure Notifications.” It is not found under the “Notifications” tab. Turn on Exposure Notifications. Tap Continue and select United States, Connecticut. Complete COVID Alert CT onboarding.]
*Once installed, the app uses Bluetooth to sense whether a user’s device has been within six feet of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more in one day — without sharing any personal information.
*If a user has been near another person who has tested positive and is also using the app on their personal device, an alert will be triggered notifying the user that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
*A notification will not be triggered if two devices in this scenario are just passing by for a short duration or stay more than six feet away from each other.
If a user tests positive:
*A contact tracer from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, their local health department, or their higher education institution will ask them if they are willing to share the “close contact” codes their app has logged while they may have been contagious.
*If the user agrees, a contract tracer will provide them with a verification code.
*Once that code is submitted through the user’s app, those individuals who came within six feet of that user for more than 15 minutes and who also are using the app will receive a notification on their device that they were in close contact with someone with COVID-19.
*Sharing this status is secure and private. The app will never reveal who the user is to anyone else.
“We’re making every effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Connecticut,” Lamont said, in the press release. “This app is another tool to make sure that every resident of our state has what they need to combat this pandemic from the ground up. This app also complements — but doesn’t replace — our broader contact tracing program, which is an invaluable resource in combating the pandemic and ensuring those who need it have the tools necessary to self-isolate or quarantine.”
“To stop the spread of COVID-19, we each need to do our part, and we hope everyone with a smartphone will participate in this new program,” Geballe said. “This is just one example of how we are leveraging modern technology to fight this pandemic and keep Connecticut safe.”
“Contact tracing is a critical part of the public health response to COVID-19,” Connecticut’s Acting Public Health Commissioner Dr Deidre Gifford said. “Any effort to supplement that program could be a crucial step in stopping the spread of the virus. If even one person is in touch with a contact tracer and discusses their contacts for the past 14 days, it could result in a chain reaction that stops dozens or more from getting infected.”
For instructions on how to download the app and to read other information about its use, visit ct.gov/covidalertct.
Into The Red Zone
The news briefing participants also addressed concerns about the upward movement of COVID-19 cases in the state, numbers that have moved Newtown into the red zone, as anticipated earlier in the day by Newtown Health Director Donna Culbert. The red zone indicates a municipality has an average daily COVID-19 case rate over the last two weeks of greater than 15 per 100,000 population.
The positivity rate of 4.8 percent is “bouncing around,” Lamont said, but worries that the number is trending up, with a seven day rolling rate of 4.4 percent as of Thursday afternoon. Hospitalizations, he said, have doubled in the last two weeks and while hospitals are now better prepared and able to care for patients, staffing could be a real need in upcoming weeks.
Dr Gottlieb fielded questions from reporters taking part virtually to address school safety, holiday concerns, travel safety, the Pfizer vaccine, and when he believes the peak of the epidemic will be in Connecticut and the rest of the nation.
While predicting a very difficult upcoming two to three months, due to the spread of COVID-19, Gottlieb hit a positive note, as well, predicting that “2021 is going to look a lot different than 2020 did.”
Knowing what the epidemic curve looks like, Gottlieb is hopeful that as the nation moves through the next several weeks, by late winter, January to February, the virus should be moving down the epidemic curve.
By early spring, the doctor said more people will be going outside, and 30 to 40 percent of the population will have been exposed.
“People are getting smarter in how they live their daily lives,” he said, and with the probability of an effective vaccine and a much different “therapy toolbox” than was available in the spring of 2020, he looks forward to a “quieter summer.”
Hospital mortality has been cut in half from earlier this year, the doctor said, due to better care and understanding the disease better. But, he added, the sheer amount of infection that he believes will be seen this fall and early winter will see the number of deaths nationally go up.
Even marginal improvements now — wearing masks, social distancing — “starts to have a profound effect,” Gottlieb said.
Wearing a mask is not a “warning,” added Lamont. “You gotta wear that mask” in public settings, or face a potential fine, he said.
Schools And Travel
The schools have handled mitigating the spread of COVID-19 very well, said the governor, and added that they were working hard to get “some younger teachers in the classrooms.” The state has done well in keeping schools open as long as they have, he said. He is watching carefully to keep schools open as long as possible.
Gottlieb said he would put closing schools last, should a more restrictive shutdown be put in place. Although a rise in outbreaks in schools has taken place, he believes doing “everything we can to keep kids in school” is important. Outbreaks are not starting in schools, he said. He would rather see, should it be necessary, preempting settings that are social and observing the limitations of numbers for gatherings right now.
It is indoor settings, including in restaurants, the are higher risk for spreading the virus, he said. Confined spaces, talking loud or singing, drier air this season, heaters operating — all add to the risk, Gottlieb said.
The doctor observed that there may be a surge of infections two to three weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday. Both Gottlieb and the governor were adamant that the population needs to try to reduce transmissions through reducing the size of gatherings at holidays and other times, and reconsidering travel plans.
While the quality of air in planes is very high, it is the movement encompassing the entire travel trip — waiting, getting on and off — that creates more possibility of transmission.
“Try to avoid travel,” he recommended. “When mobility increases, you see transfer increase.”
Test before traveling by air, and “quarantine when you get back,” urged Lamont. “People over the age of 60: Stay safe, stay home.”
This is “truly a national epidemic,” Geballe added, with “a lot of spread everywhere across the country” and the risk of acquiring the virus great now. Thirty new tests sites have opened, bringing the number to more than 200 statewide, he said. Through working with testing partners to identify where the needs are greatest, the sites have been thus allocated.
So far as distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, once it is given FDA approval, Gottlieb responded to the question of its extremely low temperature requirements for stability.
The vaccine would be shipped in a dry ice specifically manufactured to keep the vaccine stored safely, he said. It will not be distributed like a normal vaccine, but most likely shipped to provider sites and distributed right away.
Widespread distribution, he admitted, will be more of a challenge.
In closing remarks to his news briefing, Governor Lamont said, “This is the time to buckle down... stick to it a bit longer,” knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel.