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New app aids in virus tracing

By Staff | Apr 17, 2020

A new smart phone application available through the North Dakota Department of Health will enable users to stay safe and help in the fight against the coronavirus.

The application, called Care19, uses information stored on smart phones manufactured by Apple to track the places visited by users. The process, called “contract tracing,” is valuable to health workers tracing the spread of the virus in North Dakota.

Care19 is not yet available to users with Android phones.

Information about the app from ndresponse.gov says developers Proud Crowd created the program, which is similar to its Bison Tracker app.

The Bison Tracker app traced movements and “check ins” by NDSU Bison fans.

The ndresponse.gov website explained, “Once the app is downloaded, individuals will be given a random ID number and the app will anonymously cache the individual’s locations throughout the day. Individuals are then encouraged to categorize their movement into different groups such as work or grocery. The app will only store the location of any place a person visits for 10 minutes or more, and the ID number of each individual contains no personal information besides location data.”

The website added, “If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, they will be given the opportunity to consent to provide their information to the N.D. Department of Health to help in contact tracing and forecasting the pandemic’s progression with accurate, real-time data.”

“Let’s say you test positive (for coronavirus),” explained Pierce County Emergency Manager Kelsey Siegler. “It helps you go back to all the places you’ve been through contact tracing. But that information is not used outside of that without your consent.”

“My dad put it on his phone the other day,” Siegler said. “I have an Android phone, so I couldn’t put it on mine. But he labeled (various points) work and home,” Siegler said. “You can label stores you’re going to, shopping, and it traces you where you’re going throughout the day. So if you’re going to the store, it puts little dots (on a grid) from where you left the store, then back. It helps you remember where you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with.”

Lake Region District Health Unit Nurse Samantha Wentz said she has the app on her phone.

Although Wentz said she wasn’t completely sure how the application worked, she believed it used a phone’s GPS information.

“It shows, as a list, locations where you were and times,” she said. “It’s easy to use.”

Wentz said Care19 records her trips away from home. The application then sends prompts to her phone, asking her to categorize each location.

“You give them categories such as work, errand, walk, bike ride,” she said.

“The other day, I went to the Family Dollar store,” Wentz said. “It asked me to categorize where I was.”

Wentz said the N.D. Department of Health hoped to get 50,000 users for the app. “They have 17,207 people using it as of now,” she said.

Wentz said the app safeguards the users’ privacy. “At any time, you can erase data on it,” she noted.

Users must give permission for state health workers to view the information before the data can be analyzed, she noted, and that would only be in the event a user tested positive for COVID-19.

“The goal is better tracking of the cases, so they can keep the areas (where the virus has spread) contained,” Wentz said.

Download information for the app can be found at www.ndresponse.gov.

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