- Associated Press - Friday, January 8, 2021

HONOLULU (AP) - The Hawaii Department of Health has launched a phone app that can alert users to potential exposure to the coronavirus from people nearby.

The AlohaSafe Alert app was developed and released in partnership with aio Digital and the Hawaii Executive Collaborative and has been downloaded more than 14,000 times, the state said.

“AlohaSafe Alert app is another important tool in the fight against COVID-19,” health department Director Dr. Libby Char said.

AlohaSafe Alert employs Google Apple Exposure Notification technology, which gauges the closeness and duration of signals between enrolled devices.

Users who learn they are infected with the virus can upload the information to the app anonymously.

The app sends private notifications within 48 hours if an app user remains at least 15 minutes within 6 feet (1.8 meters) of another user who tested positive in the previous 14 days.

The app “has the potential to greatly increase the speed of the exposure notification process, allowing anyone who receives an alert to quickly self-quarantine and get tested if needed,” Char said.

The app is available to residents of Hawaii, Honolulu, Kauai and Maui counties. The technology has been authorized in other 17 states and 19 countries.

AlohaSafe Alert protects user privacy by tracking signals from smartphones operating the app without revealing personal details stored on the device, officials said.

“(The app) is so privacy-preserving, that we can’t identify the individuals who have been notified,” said Josh Quint, a health department epidemiologist. “And that’s very intentional on the part of how the technology was designed. People aren’t going to feel comfortable using it if they don’t trust that their privacy is protected.”

AlohaSafe Alert was released in a pilot program on Lanai and in Hana on Maui Nov. 17 before being expanded to Maui County Dec. 16.

“When Lanai experienced a surge in COVID cases, AlohaSafe Alert was critical in helping us to control the spread,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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