Pennsylvania uses technology to slow the spread of COVID 19

By Matthew Rutherford
February 28, 2021

The icon for COVID Alert PA. Photo from Matthew Rutherford.
The icon for COVID Alert PA. Photo from Matthew Rutherford.
The app icon for COVID Alert PA. Photo from Matthew Rutherford.

The state of Pennsylvania unveiled an app back in Sep. in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. All citizens of Pennsylvania are being encouraged to download the COVID Alert PA.

The application is used to alert someone who came in close contact with somebody else who also uses it if that person has reported positive. If someone was in close contact with another user of the program that has tested positive for the virus, those in close contact will receive an exposure notification.

“The Pennsylvania COVID Alert application uses Bluetooth Low Energy,” Robert Getz, director of administrative computing, said. “This technology allows Apple and Android phones to communicate anonymously with other nearby phones and devices by passing randomly assigned numbers and letters, that correlate to each user’s device.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and now former Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine are endorsing the app. Both are hoping that more people download the app.

“This app is a simple tool you can use to help fight COVID-19 every day, everywhere you go,” Wolf said. “I encourage you to visit your app store and download it for free today.”

The COVID Alert Pennsylvania app homepage. Photo from Matthew Rutherford.

“We all play a part in stopping the spread of COVID-19, which is why I am encouraging every Pennsylvanian to add their phone to the fight and download COVID Alert PA today,” Levine said. “By utilizing this technology, we can quickly notify more people who have been exposed to COVID-19.”

Pennsylvania is not the only state to do something like this. As of Jan., 20 states and the District of Columbia are using technology for exposure alerts.

Some people like Michael Palombo, teacher of computer science at Cape May County Technical High School in New Jersey, think that it might be beneficial for schools to require students to download the app for their state.

“I’m going to talk with my bosses about requiring the students and teachers to download the NJ COVID Alert app,” Palombo said. “If a student tests positive only a few students in close contact would have to quarantine as compared to an entire class.”

When the application was announced back in Sep., Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine were joined at the announcement in Franklin Square by Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley and Governor Wolf’s Advisory Commission for Latino Affairs Executive Director Luz Colon.

“Philadelphia has made great progress against COVID-19, but the pandemic isn’t over yet,” Farley said. “We need every tool available to control it. COVID Alert PA can help fill in the gaps in our investigations, but it only works to the extent that people use it. So, download it and activate it and help protect you and your family.”

As of Feb. 24, the app only had 792,801 users out of the 12,783,254 residents in the state. Many think that more users should download the app.

The COVID Alert Pennsylvania app allows users to report symptoms. Photo from Matthew Rutherford.

“These COVID exposure Apps generally do not tax a device’s resource or battery, do not pass sensitive or personal identifiable information and can provide life-saving benefits to those using the applications,” Getz said.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the app does not enable any location services or track anyone, and it is designed to be completely anonymous.

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Matthew Rutherford

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