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'COVID Alert NY' App Provides Power and Peace of Mind to Users

OSWEGO COUNTY – The Oswego County Health Department continues to urge residents to take every precaution in the battle against COVID-19. The plea is especially critical with the ongoing rise in positive cases across the county. Now, in addition to following protection protocols, people can download the free “COVID Alert NY” app to their smartphones.

“This app is a valuable tool in the battle against COVID-19,” said Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang. “It is an early warning system that gives users the power to slow the spread of the virus. I strongly encourage people to download it to their phones.”

The “COVID Alert NY” app is New York State’s official COVID-19 exposure notification app. It’s free for adults aged 18 years and over who live or work in New York. The app is compatible with either Apple or Android smartphones.

Oswego County officials want to reassure people about the privacy protections that are built into the app.

“We understand that privacy issues are perhaps the biggest concern people have about this new technology,” said Oswego County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup. “However, the ‘COVID Alert NY’ app is completely anonymous. One’s personal data is not saved. Their GPS location is not recorded, and their movements are not tracked. People don’t have to worry about sharing their information or being identified using this app.”

The “COVID Alert NY” app works by using secure Bluetooth technology to detect when another phone with the same app is near. If two apps sense that they have been in “close contact” – within six feet of each other for longer than 10 minutes – they will exchange random codes with each other to log the occurrence.

“The app is pretty simple to use,” said Oswego County Public Health Educator Sonia Robinson. “Once you download it onto your smartphone, it just runs in the background. You don’t have to do anything else with it.

“It’s only when a person with the app on their phone tests positive for COVID-19 that the app becomes helpful to contact tracers,” she added.

Public health investigators, or contact tracers, work with COVID-19 positive patients to re-trace their steps, identify people they have been in contact with, and notify those who may have been exposed to the virus.

If a patient has the “COVID Alert NY” app on their phone, investigators will provide a notification code for it. The patient/user can then go into the app, enter the code and click “share.” The app will notify other apps it has been in “close contact” with; which will, in turn, alert its users.

Robinson added, “This ‘sharing’ is fully secure and anonymous. The app does not have the ability to reveal the identity of the person who triggered the alert, nor the identities of those who received the alert.”

Oswego County Senior Public Health Educator Diane Oldenburg said that anyone who receives an alert is strongly encouraged to get tested for the virus and self-quarantine while they wait for their results.

“The earlier we know about a potential exposure, the better chance we have of containing the virus and keeping it from spreading,” she said. “Knowing allows a person to quarantine immediately. They can quickly get tested and receive early treatment if necessary. These steps can reduce the risk of exposing their families, friends, neighbors and co-workers to COVID-19.”

Huang agreed, saying that the “COVID Alert NY” app is a good resource because it allows users to make and receive timely notifications. “The early warning this app provides will go a long way toward helping us stem the rising tide of positive cases we’re facing,” he said. “It allows people some measure of control in navigating this pandemic, which may bring them peace of mind as well.”

Over one million people have now downloaded the “COVID Alert NY” app to their smartphones. “We’re encouraged that so many people are using the app,” said Chairman Weatherup. “While the system works with any number of users, it is much more effective with more people having it.”

He added, “Of course, people still need to follow COVID-19 protocols. The virus continues to be rampant in our communities and these actions are the best way to prevent spreading it to others. Wear a face mask over your nose and mouth in public, wash your hands frequently and practice social distancing. Comply with isolation and quarantine rules, and – most importantly – avoid non-essential gatherings.”

For more information about the “COVID Alert NY” app, go to the New York State Department of Health’s website at https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/covid-alert-ny.

Call the Oswego County Health Department COVID-19 hotline at 315-349-3330 if you have any other questions. The hotline is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For information about emotional supports, visit the Oswego County Department of Social Services Division of Mental Hygiene at www.oswegocounty.com/mentalhygiene.

Under New York State Public Health Law, the Oswego County Health Department is the sole local public health authority regarding the COVID-19 pandemic response over all persons and entities within the County of Oswego. The Oswego County Health Department works closely with New York State Department of Health regarding COVID-19 monitoring, response and reporting.