The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services launched an app called SlowCOVIDNC that acts as a COVID-19 Exposure Notification. Intended to help North Carolinians slow the spread of the virus, the app alerts users when they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The smart phone app is completely anonymous and does not collect, store, or share personal information or location data. Here’s how it works:
1) Download the cost-free SlowCOVIDNC Exposure Notification app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and enable Bluetooth and Exposure Notifications. Bluetooth must be turned on in order for the app to work.
2) After you opt-in to receive notifications, the app will generate an anonymous “token” for your device. A token is a sequence of random letters which changes automatically every 10-20 minutes and is never linked to identity or location. This methodology protects your privacy and security.
3) Through Bluetooth, the SlowCOVIDNC app will work in the background (minimizing battery depletion) to exchange these anonymous tokens every few minutes. Phones record how long they are near each other and the Bluetooth signal strength of their exchanges in order to estimate distance.
4) If a SlowCOVIDNC app user tests positive for COVID-19, the individual may obtain a unique PIN to submit within the app. To receive a PIN, app users can use a web-based PIN Portal, contact the Community Care of North Carolina call center, or contact the Buncombe County Health Department. Of course, I’ll be glad to assist any resident or employee who tests positive for COVID-19 with this process, should they so desire.
5) When a person who has tested positive voluntarily enters a PIN into the app, it essentially notifies the app that all tokens taken from that device within the last 14 days are connected to a positive case. Phones then use records of the signal strength (the distance between users) and duration of close contact to calculate exposure risk. Let’s say that I, an app user, stood in a long line with poor social distancing at a home improvement store about a week ago. The person standing in line behind me is also an app user; today, after testing positive for COVID-19, the person enters a PIN into their app. Using the tokens collected from our phones, the app will alert me (if our phones were within 6 feet of each other for more than 10 minutes) that I’ve sustained an exposure to a person with COVID-19. The case individual will never know who I am or that I was notified, I’ll never know who the case individual is, and no one will ever know that the exposure location was the home improvement store.
6) App users who receive notification of exposure will be empowered with useful information that should compel them to voluntarily quarantine and seek testing.
The SlowCOVIDNC app is a powerful tool and a practical step that each of us can take to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. However, like mask wearing and social distancing, SlowCOVIDNC works best when its use is widespread. The more North Carolinians participate, the more effective this app will be at identifying potential exposures and mitigating continued transmission of COVID-19.
In less than two minutes, I downloaded the app to my smart phone device this morning. I hope that you’ll do the same.
Taryn Tindall, RN, on behalf of the Deerfield Leadership Team