AlohaSafe COVID notification app hits milestone

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AlohaSafe Alert, the State of Hawaii’s official COVID-19 exposure notification app, has reached one million activations.

The free app launched statewide in January as a way to bolster the state’s contact tracing program using digital tools. It is designed to provide anonymous notifications to people who have been exposed to COVID-19.

AlohaSafe Alert uses Bluetooth technology to estimate the distance between smartphones. If a user tests positive for COVID-19, they will receive a secure code from the Hawaii Department of Health. When the user uploads that code, the system will send an anonymous message to any close contacts – individuals within six feet for at least 15 minutes over the last 14 days – of the individual who tested positive for the virus.

Over 600 people have uploaded their code to anonymously report their COVID-19 infection and inform others in the community of their risk. This rate of code redemption is consistent with other states that have successfully implemented the technology.

While the privacy-preserving design of the app limits the amount of data that can be collected from users, preliminary analysis indicates that the technology is effective in notifying people who may have otherwise never been alerted about their exposure, thus preventing infections and saving lives.

Officials attribute Hawaii’s high adoption rate of one million activations in part to strong uptake among residents and visitors. However, due to privacy protections, the ratio of permanent residents to temporary visitors cannot be determined.

“Getting vaccinated is more important than ever, but to slow the recent increase in COVID-19 cases we should use all the tools at our disposal,” said Dr. Libby Char, director of the Hawaii State Department of Health. “Wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and utilizing AlohaSafe Alert exposure notification will help protect all of us from the spread of COVID-19.”

Besides getting vaccinated and wearing masks, Chris Pan, executive director of the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, has encouraged everyone in his congregation to enable exposure notifications on their phone as an extra layer of protection against the virus.

“Being able to gather in-person means the world to us and AlohaSafe Alert give us the peace of mind knowing that if someone tests positive, we will be immediately notified through our phones,” he said.

Besides Hawaii, 22 states and the District of Columbia have also deployed the exposure notification technology. Hawaii was among the first to adopt EN Express, which allowed iPhone users to opt-in to the service without downloading an app. The app continues to be enhanced over time and has been made available in Tagalog, Ilocano, Samoan, Marshallese, Chuukese, and Korean as well as compatibility with older phones to promote greater access across the community.

AlohaSafe Alert was developed through a public-private partnership with DOH, aio Digital, and the Hawaii Executive Collaborative. It is funded by DOH and donations from the private sector.

For more information visit alohasafealert.org.

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