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Colorado health officials rolling out exposure notifications for COVID-19 with new app

A new app allows users get a push alert notifying them about a possible COVID-19 exposure — and the next steps to take.

DENVER — State health officials discussed on Thursday a new app feature aimed at alerting Coloradans when they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

CO Exposure Notifications is a voluntary service developed in partnership with Google and Apple that can alert users if they have been near someone who has been positively diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. 

Beginning on Sunday, Oct. 25, Apple and Android users will receive a push notification about the service and how to opt in.

“As we are seeing cases, hospitalizations and positive test results surge across Colorado, we are so excited to have this new tech in the toolbox to help us fight COVID-19," said Sarah Tuneberg, special COVID-19 advisor with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

When two people have activated CO Exposure Notifications on their smartphones and come in close proximity to one another, they exchange anonymized “tokens” that log that close interaction for 14 days, CDPHE said.

"Tokens contain no personal information or location data and everything is completely anonymous," CDPHE said.

In addition, CDPHE said the service uses Bluetooth rather than GPS and that users have full control to opt-in or turn off notifications at any time.

Anyone who uses the feature and tests positive for COVID-19 then has the ability to upload results and “share” the tokens, which will send a push notification to anyone that person may have exchanged tokens with, to notify them of possible exposure, according to CDPHE. 

Users who receive a notification of coronavirus exposure will be directed to self-quarantine immediately and referred to COVID-19 resources, including testing site locations. 

The tokens are then stored on a public health server for 14 days before they're automatically deleted, CDPHE said.

Tuneberg said the service will equip Coloradans to play a role in protecting our communities form the virus, while also maintaining strong individual privacy. 

“We understand the importance of privacy and security and have taken extensive steps to ensure personal information is not collected, stored or transmitted through the use of CO Exposure Notifications," Tuneberg said. "By adding your phone to the fight and increasing risk awareness and identification, you can help Colorado stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) and state health leaders announced plans for the new app last month as a way to alert smartphone users if they've been potentially exposed to the virus, and supplement state contact tracing efforts.

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