Somerville, Methuen testing new Bluetooth contract-tracing app

SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Two cities are trying out a phone app that will let you know if you get too close to someone who has COVID-19. Imagine walking down a busy street and being alerted later you came to close to someone for too long within 10 days of them testing positive for COVID-19.

“I’d be happy to know if someone around me tested positive,” one man said.

“I think I’d rather know in advance, and I think the whole point of contact tracing is to be as safe as you can possibly be,” another person said.

Somerville and Methuen are testing a new system that does contact tracing using your phone. Somerville Health & Human Services Director Doug Kress explained how it works.

On iPhones, you just go into settings, turn on ‘exposure notifications’ and set your location. On other phones like Androids, you have to download an app.

In a nutshell, here’s the way it works: the Bluetooth technology in your phone keeps track of whoever comes within your circle for longer than 15 minutes.

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“That is, within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes, they would get a notification that they have been exposed to somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19,” Kress said.

On iPhones, you just go into settings, turn on ‘exposure notifications’ and set your location. On other phones like androids, you have to download an app.

Health officials say your GPS location is not used, it’s just the phone keeping track of other phones with the feature activated using Bluetooth.

“You wouldn’t know the time, you wouldn’t know the location. Again, this is just a Bluetooth connection,” Kress said.

Health officials said the technology will help supplement the contact tracing already being used.

“Not everyone remembers who they may have been around for that time period,” Kress said.

Somerville and Methuen plan to test it out over the next 10 days, and then health officials plan to use it for the entire state.

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