NY COVID tracking app provides little help in pandemic fight

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New York state’s much-touted coronavirus tracking smartphone app has only been used to contract trace after 1,400 positive tests — even as the state has clocked more than 400,000 new cases since its launch.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the COVID Alert NY app for iPhones and Android devices with great fanfare on Oct. 1, saying one of his closest and most-trusted advisors would oversee the application as part of the Empire State’s contract tracing initiative.

“It’s really creative and smart and I think it can make a big difference,” Cuomo said in a statement, announcing the new service, describing the app as “a technology-based solution” that would play a key role in bolstering the state’s efforts to quickly alert New Yorkers if they were near someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

But state records show that over the last three months, the app has hardly been used. Just 1,400 New Yorkers notified the app that they tested positive for the disease, which triggered notifications to just 1,300 other people.

That accounts for less than one-third of one percent of the more than 440,000 new cases of coronavirus recorded in New York state over the same period of time, records show.

coronavirus tracking
Getty Images/iStockphoto

On the day it launched, New York state reported 460,031 total cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began. That tally has climbed to nearly 904,000 over the intervening three months.

Overall, the app has been downloaded 1.2 million times since it launched, representing a fraction of New York’s population, which exceeds 19 million people.

The program is based on a concept pioneered by several countries in Asia to use phones, credit card receipts and other bits of digital data to track down those possibly exposed.

Privacy concerns here though mean that downloading the application is optional and it does not use GPS or other technology to keep tabs on your exact location.

Instead, it utilizes the Bluetooth feature on phones to make a list of other devices with the app that came within six feet and alerts those users if there’s an eventual positive. It does not reveal the device or the identity of the owner who tested positive.

Cuomo put Larry Schwartz, one of his most trusted hands in charge of running the state’s overall coronavirus contract tracing program — including the app. Schwartz was once Cuomo’s all-powerful Secretary and remains a close advisor.

Schwartz downplayed the importance of the phone app, calling it an “added tool” in the state’s contact tracing program to interview and trace positive cases — which he credited with helping to keep ahead of the second wave of the coronavirus outbreaks slamming much of the rest of the country.

“We’ve reached more than 80 percent of all positive cases and 85 percent of their contacts,” Schwartz told The Post. “No one else in the country has had that kind of success.”

“I applaud the 1.2 million people who have taken the time to download the app,” he added. “It’s all part of a multifaceted effort.”

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