Colorado’s COVID Notification App is one way to lighten load on stressed public health case investigators
Local public health and emergency response officials have been pointing people to a new statewide notification system as one way to find out early about potential COVID-19 exposure.
The cellular-technology-based system could also reduce the need for time-consuming case investigations, if people who receive an alert respond appropriately and self-quarantine before potentially spreading the virus out into the community.
“If you receive the emergency notification that you may have been exposed, then you can respond on the front end,” Garfield County Public Health spokeswoman Carrie Godes said. “But, we do want those people to quarantine right away.”
The more people who self-quarantine as a precaution, the lighter the load on already maxed-out public health epidemiologist nurses who are charged with case investigation and contact tracing if there’s concern for disease spread, she said.
That’s especially important as Garfield and neighboring counties see a spike in new coronavirus cases — the highest since mid-summer for Garfield County — which has local case investigators struggling to keep up with the workload.
Colorado launched its Exposure Notifications App on Oct. 25 in partnership with Google and Apple.
Apple and Android smartphone users around that time should have received an alert to consider activating the notification system.
Once activated, the system lets users know, based on cell phone mobility tracking, if they’ve come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 — and has voluntarily entered their information in the database — for a long enough period of time to have been exposed.
Kristi Redlinger of Grand Junction said she wasn’t sure what it meant when she got the activation alert.
“I have now downloaded it,” she said in a recent Facebook reply to a post asking who had signed up, and why. “I wear a mask everywhere I go, but since so many people do not, it would be helpful to know if I have been exposed.”
The way it works is, activated smartphones share anonymous tokens with other users through the phones’ Bluetooth technology.
“If another user tests positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period and chooses to upload their results, users at risk of infection will receive an alert of potential exposure,” Carbondale’s COVID-19 Emergency Task Force shared in a recent news release.
“Tokens are not associated with any phone number, name, location or IP address, and they change every 15 minutes to add an extra layer of anonymity.”
Sarah Tuneberg, who leads Colorado’s Testing and Containment Team, adds that the system is secure and totally voluntary.
“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,” she said in a news release issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in late October.
To learn more about CO Exposure Notifications, visit addyourphone.com.
Watch this video explainer:
The statewide notification system also provides individuals who receive an exposure alert with instructions on recommended next steps, including information on quarantine and contacting their local public health agency, according to the state’s news release.
“This is technology that is used in many other states, and other countries around the world, so we’re definitely not the first to use this system,” GCPH’s Godes said.
Receiving an exposure notification means that a person has had enough exposure to COVID and that a quarantine is necessary, Godes went on to explain.
“It does not mean that you need a COVID test unless you develop symptoms, as testing too early may not yield accurate results,” she said.
Quarantine means staying at home for 14 days, limiting contact with others and monitoring oneself and household members for symptoms.
Godes added, “The only things that can end a 14-day quarantine is when those 14 days have passed and no symptoms have started, or you get COVID and must begin isolation for 10 days.”
• The person should not go to stores, school, social gatherings, sports, or church for the full 14-day period. It is all right to spend time outside, but if you encounter others who are not in your household, stay six feet away and wear a mask.
• Quarantine only ends after the 14-day period when no symptoms have started or if COVID symptoms develop. If symptoms develop, get tested within 1-2 days and begin isolation following the CDPHE guidelines.
• Other household members of a person in quarantine are considered “contacts of a contact” and are not required to quarantine. However, everyone should continue to monitor symptoms and seek medical evaluation if symptoms develop.
• Quarantine at home does not mean isolating the person from the rest of the family but wearing masks and distancing within the home are recommended during this time.
Source: Garfield County Public Health
“We are looking for community support to take this step,” Godes said. “As soon as the alert system went on, we started getting calls. So we know it works.
“It is hard to imagine how COVID will impact you until you are directly affected but we need people to begin to think about their personal COVID plan. What will you do if you receive a COVID exposure notification, or are told to quarantine?”
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