Massachusetts public health officials are testing a Bluetooth app that alerts users if they have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus — a “new tool in our toolbox to fight COVID,” Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone tells the Herald.
The cities of Somerville and Methuen are starting a pilot program for the MassNotify app on Monday.
MassNotify can send users an “exposure alert” if they were in close contact with someone who anonymously shared through the app that they tested positive for COVID-19.
“This new tool we’re piloting is another resource we have to contain the virus,” Curtatone said on Sunday.
“It’s a new tool in our toolbox to fight COVID,” the mayor added. “We have to do everything we can to interrupt the transmission from person to person.”
MassNotify is a new state Department of Public Health service developed in partnership with Google and Apple to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Residents have to opt-in to the anonymous service on their iPhone or Android phone.
If users choose to enable MassNotify, their phone will share anonymous Bluetooth codes with other phones nearby. If a user tests positive, they can choose to anonymously alert other MassNotify users, so they know about the possible exposure.
This private exposure alert will tell the user that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The app will then send them information to help them get tested.
“Hopefully this technology can be scaled up for other municipalities to help stay ahead of any future outbreaks,” Curtatone said.
MassNotify is based on Google Apple Exposure Notifications technology, which was designed to safeguard user privacy, the state Department of Public Health website reads. The system never shares any location data or personal information with Google, Apple, the state of Massachusetts, or other users.
Data indicates that even a small number of people using exposure notification solutions like MassNotify can help reduce COVID-19 infections and deaths, the DPH says.
“Along with wearing masks and keeping a safe distance, MassNotify is another way to keep ourselves and our communities safe from the spread of COVID-19,” the DPH said.
Residents in the pilot communities can enable MassNotify in two ways. People who have iPhones can go to Settings and scroll down to Exposure Notifications, where they can turn on the notifications. Those who have an Android phone can go to the Google Play store and download the MassNotify app.