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State Urges Michiganders To Download COVID Tracking App

Flyer from MDHHS asking Michiganders to download the app.
MDHHS
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The app can alert you if you were in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Michigan continues to see record-breaking daily cases of COVID-19, but the state has a new tool aimed at preventing the spread of the disease.

The MI COVID Alert app will notify users using Bluetooth technology if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state first piloted the app in Ingham County. Almost 47,000 people downloaded it during the pilot period. That’s nearly 16% of the county’s total population.

Now, it's launching statewide. WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, about the app.

Interview Highlights

On How The App Works

You can download it to your phone, either on the Apple or Google App Store, just do a search for MI COVID Alert. It's very easy to download. And then, for a person who tests positive for COVID-19 in Michigan, their local health department gives them a pin that they could enter into the app. And once they enter that pin, what happens is anyone whose phone was within six feet of their phone for a period of 15 minutes or longer, which is considered a close contact of somebody with COVID-19, would then get an alert on the app that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

On How Michigander’s Sensitive Information Is Kept Safe

We want this to be private. We don't want people to be concerned that their anything, their name, or their health information or anything like that is shared with anyone. So, we have a lot of security procedures in place,so your name or any personally identifiable information will not be shared with anyone else, whether it be somebody who was exposed to you or whether it be any other outside individuals.

On Why Michigan Is Seeing More Cases OF COVID-19

There's a number of possible things going on that we think may be contributing to this large increase. Although we have had some unseasonably warm weather the last few days, as the weather gets colder, people are moving more indoors. You know, people were spending a lot of time outside during the summer where there's less risk of transmission. There's probably a case for people just getting tired of fighting COVID-19 which we understand that. Everybody's tired of it. It's been very difficult at eight or nine months. But one of the things our director says is that we're getting tired of COVID-19, but that COVID-19 isn't getting tired of us. It's still there. It's still out there. People should know that they shouldn't let their guard down.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Michigan continues to see record-breaking daily cases of COVID-19, but the state has a new tool aimed at preventing the spread of the disease. The MI COVID Alert app will notify users using Bluetooth technology if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state first piloted the app in Ingham County. Now, it’s launching statewide. Bob Wheaton is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

He joins me now to explain more about this app. Thanks for being here.

Bob Wheaton: Thanks for having me.

Sophia Saliby: So, how does this app actually work?

Wheaton: You can download it to your phone, either on the Apple or Google App Store, just do a search for MI COVID Alert. It's very easy to download.

And then for a person who tests positive for COVID-19 in Michigan, their local health department gives them a pin that they could enter into the app. And once they enter that pin, what happens is anyone whose phone was within six feet of their phone for a period of 15 minutes or longer, which is considered a close contact of somebody with COVID-19, would then get an alert on the app that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

And then they can be tested, they can quarantine [and] they can do the necessary things to protect their family and friends and other people in the community from further spread of COVID-19. And this is entirely anonymous. So, for example, you're not told the name of the person or details about the location, you're just told that, that you had a close contact with somebody with COVID-19.

Saliby: If you get that alert on your phone, what should you do next?

Wheaton: The best thing to do would be to call your local health department, and you can consult with them about what steps you need to take. Typically, you're going to want to get tested to determine whether you do have COVID-19.

And again, you can talk to your local health department about this, but we would generally advise people to quarantine as soon as they find out that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. And then after they're tested, they can consult with their local health department again to determine for how much longer they need to quarantine or if they test positive how long they need to isolate from others, which that means just in addition, to stay in your own home, staying in the room as much as you can and stay away from other people in your family.

Saliby: This is people's private health and location information. How are you keeping it safe?

We want this to be private. We don't want people to be concerned that their anything, their name, or their health information or anything like that is shared with anyone.

Wheaton: Yeah, so that's something that's very important. We want this to be private. We don't want people to be concerned that their anything, their name, or their health information or anything like that is shared with anyone.

So, we have a lot of security procedures in place your name or any personally identifiable information will not be shared with anyone else, whether it be somebody who was exposed to you or whether it be any other outside individuals.

And so yeah, we've kept privacy in mind as an important part of this. And also, people should know that this is not something that just shows up on their phone. They have to take action to download the app, which we hope people will do because that will help us limit the spread of COVID-19.

Saliby: You piloted the app in Ingham County and around Michigan State University. How many people downloaded it and were using it before it launched statewide?

Wheaton: There were almost 47,000 people who downloaded the app in those initial weeks of the pilot. So, we thought that was really a good demonstration of the demand for the app with a lot of people being interested in it. And that number represents nearly 16% of the total Ingham County population.

It's possible there may have been people from outside of Ingham County who downloaded it, but that's still a really significant number of people for a relatively short time period who downloaded it and were interested in using it. And we just launched the app statewide on Tuesday and have had strong, strong interest in that as well.

Saliby: We're seeing increasing numbers of cases of COVID-19 almost every day in Michigan. What's changed and what can Michiganders do to stay healthy and safe?

Wheaton: There's a number of possible things going on that we think may be contributing to this large increase. Although we have had some unseasonably warm weather the last few days, as the weather gets colder, people are moving more indoors. You know, people were spending a lot of time outside during the summer where there's less risk of transmission.

We're getting tired of COVID-19, but COVID-19 isn't getting tired of us. It's still there.

There's probably a case for people just getting tired of fighting COVID-19 which we understand that. Everybody's tired of it. It's been very difficult at eight or nine months. But one of the things our director says is that we're getting tired of COVID-19, but that COVID-19 isn't getting tired of us. It's still there. It's still out there.

People should know that they shouldn't let their guard down, as we have holidays coming up and things like that, too. We're advising people to limit those gatherings this year to try to prevent spreading COVID-19. So, those are some of the things that we think are contributing to the increase in case numbers which is very concerning to us and, which is why people need to be careful and again, wear masks and physically distance, avoid large gatherings, wash their hands frequently, all this stuff that people have been doing since the pandemic began.

Saliby: Bob Wheaton is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Thank you for joining me.

Wheaton: Thank you very much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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