What is Google’s exposure notice for COVID protection?

Almost a year and a half ago in March 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic. Since then, variations have appeared. To date, worldwide there have been more than 200 million cases and more than 4 million confirmed deaths from the virus.

One of the deadliest pandemics in human history, COVID-19 has disrupted lives and economies, triggering the largest global recession since the Great Depression. While the spread of misinformation has increased stress and reduced our collective ability to weather the pandemic, there are still a few bright spots. A ray of sunshine is a joint effort between two technology giants Apple and Google to create Exposure notification system for contact tracking.

Google and Apple said they created the Contact Notification System “with a shared responsibility to help governments and our global communities fight this pandemic through contact tracing.”

Whether you’ve been immunized or not, you can help protect your community. If you are an Android user, you can Find and install the app for your region. iPhone users can choose to use Exposure Notifications in their device settings.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a public health technique that searches for anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case to test that person or track them down for infection. It is an effective way to prevent the disease from spreading by finding and isolating patients. For example, smallpox was eventually eliminated by comprehensive contact tracing.

Imagine you were asked to make a list of the people you had contact with yesterday. Easy, right? You know who you live with and who you hang out with. But it’s more complicated than that. Do you know the names and contact information of everyone you wait next to in line at the grocery store? What about on public transport or at a crowded event like a concert?

Google and Apple’s contact notification systems are designed to notify people you’ve been in contact with, but you can’t identify directly. And it does it without sacrificing anyone’s privacy.

What is the Exposure Notification System?

When you opt-in to the system (iPhone) or install an app that’s part of the Contact Notification System (Android), it notifies you if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. Here is how it works.

  1. A random key is generated for your device. That key will change every 10-20 minutes to ensure that no one can use it to identify you or your location.
  2. Devices exchange these random keys using Bluetoothwhether you have the app open or not.
  3. Your phone will regularly compare the list of random keys associated with positive COVID-19 cases with the list of random keys you have been exposed to.
  4. If it finds a match, it means you’ve exposed a key associated with a confirmed case. In that case, you will receive a notice with instructions on what to do from your state or local public health agency.

You can see how this technology makes you more likely to be notified if you come into contact with someone with COVID-19, even if that person is a stranger.

Your Identity and Location Will Remain Private

Google and Apple have built an Exposure Notification System with privacy in mind.

  • The program is selected to participate. You can turn off Exposure Notification any time you want.
  • Your identity cannot be seen by other users. Neither does Google or Apple.
  • The system does not track your location. Instead, it uses Bluetooth to see if two devices are close to each other. Device location is not collected or used.
  • Only legitimate public health systems can use the Exposure Notification System, and they must meet specific criteria for privacy, data use, and security.

This system only works if people use it, so the creators have an incentive to keep users’ information private.

Is there an app in my area?

You can check out this list to see if your area already has an Exposure Notification System app. So far, 43 countries have the app. In the US, 25 states or regions have the app available. The list is updated every two weeks.

If you don’t see an application for your area, contact your elected officials and request one.

What if I test positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, your regional health authority may contact you. They will provide you with a code that you can use to upload your diagnosis to the Exposure Notification System. Your identity will remain private.

If other users of the Contact Notification System contact you, they will be notified. The only information they will receive is how many days ago they were exposed. Again, none of your personal information will be shared with other users.

Should I Use the Exposure Notification System if I’ve Been Immunized?

First, thank you for your vaccinations! You have a lower risk of contracting the virus, and if you do get the breakout virus, you’re less likely to be hospitalized or die from it.

Second, yes, you should use the Exposure Notification System even if you have been vaccinated. The more people are using the system, the better it works.

Furthermore, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently said that fully vaccinated people if infected with the breakthrough COVID-19 disease can transmit the virus.

For all of these reasons, you should still use the Exposure Notification System even if you have been vaccinated.

Help end the COVID-19 pandemic

We all want to return to normal life. That can be done or not depends on the will and actions of our collective. In addition to vaccinations, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing, you can help create another layer of protection for your community by participating in the Exposure Notification System.

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