Three U.S. states — North Dakota, Wyoming and Alabama — this week rolled out or announced the imminent rollout of coronavirus contact tracing apps built using Apple and Google's Exposure Notification API.
North Dakota became the second state to adopt the Apple-Google API when its Care19 Alert app went live on Thursday. The app, developed by ProudCrowd, is the first to enable communication with contact tracing apps maintained by other states. In July, the Association of Public Health Laboratories announced a partnership with Apple, Google and Microsoft to build a national server for the secure storage and dissemination of COVID-19 Exposure Notification data, a project that promises tracking continuity across state borders. Whether North Dakota's app integrates with APHL's server is unclear.
A second ProudCrowd app will debut in Wyoming on Friday, reports Reuters. Alabama is also set to release a similar app on Monday following testing by University of Alabama at Birmingham students and staff, the report said.
In the coming weeks, Washington and Pennsylvania could also issue contact tracing apps that integrate the Exposure Notification API. Others, like South Carolina, have signaled intent to roll out similar app solutions, but official release dates have not been announced.
Virginia last week was the first state to launch a COVID-19 tracking app using the Apple-Google technology.
Previous attempts to launch apps based on proprietary contact tracing systems in the U.S. have in large part failed to gain traction. In some cases, like Utah's Healthy Together app, the tepid response was blamed on privacy invasive features such as location tracking and the gathering of personal information.
The Apple-Google Exposure Notification API uses random device identifiers — keys — to generate temporary IDs that are sent between devices via close proximity Bluetooth communications. By swapping keys, apps integrating the Apple-Google system can track and notify users when they are exposed to others who test positive for coronavirus.
With security at the fore, the solution does not store data on central servers run by Apple or Google, but instead silos anonymized Bluetooth beacons on user devices until participants elect to share the information with an outside party. If and when a user is diagnosed with COVID-19, they can opt to upload a 14-day list of recent anonymized contacts to a distribution server, which matches beacon IDs and sends out notifications alerting those individuals that they came in close contact with a carrier of the virus. Doctors can also peruse the data, if such access is granted.
The efficacy of digital contact tracing solutions is unknown, but at least one study suggests the daily number of infections can be reduced if a mere 20% to 40% of a given population downloads and uses such apps. While uptake has been slow in the U.S., international adoption has been relatively strong. For example, Ireland and Germany are seeing robust downloads of apps based on the Exposure Notification API.