New app can alert you if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19

BOSTON — A new app can alert you if you’ve crossed paths with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. It was designed, in a large part, by a team of researchers in the Boston area. The developers believe it can help in starting to reopen the economy.

Alina Clough is studying for her master’s degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The 23-year-old is also design lead of the contact tracing app Safe Paths.

“If you a healthy user and I were in the same Starbucks yesterday afternoon you would get an alert on your phone,” Clough said.

The app will let you know if you’ve come in contact recently with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. It’s a collaboration of more than 1,300 researchers from Harvard, the Mayo Clinic, World Health Organization and MIT. Ramesh Raskar is an associate professor at MIT and founder of Safe Paths. He is overseeing the project.

“If you’re exposed then the app can help you discuss with public health or with your own doctor what you can do next,” Raskar said.

Here’s how the app works.

After you download it and agree to sharing your location, the app starts tracking you. If you cross paths with someone who’s been diagnosed with the COVID-19, who also has the app, you’ll receive a notification telling you when and for how long.

“Relying on people’s knowledge of who they were in contact with, specifically with strangers, is really tough. Not to mention the fact that with how long you can be contagious. Being able to remember every place you’ve been in the past 2 to 3 weeks is virtually impossible,” Clough said.

When someone who’s used the app is diagnosed with the virus they are given the option to anonymously share their tracked paths with health professionals. The developers promise total privacy.

“There are zero names attached to it. There’s no log-in, no email. This is completely anonymous. If you choose to give your name to health authorities, we’ve included a redaction tool that can delete home address or any other addresses you feel sensitive,” Clough said.

The app keeps records of where you’ve been for 28 days. It is free and can be found on Google Play and the App Store.

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