Michigan to begin pilot testing COVID-19 contact tracing app

    Susan J. Demas

    Michigan will begin pilot testing an app in East Lansing that will aid the state in COVID-19 contact tracing.

    Use of the system is voluntary. Once a device owner enrolls, their device communicates with other nearby devices through Bluetooth.

    A screenshot of the contact tracing app enrollment screen

    If a device owner later tests positive for COVID-19, the other users they had contact with receive a notification that they may have been exposed to the virus.

    No identifying information is shared with other users, Apple or Google, as each device is given a random ID that changes every 10 to 20 minutes. The system does not collect users’ location information; rather, it uses Bluetooth to check the proximity between devices, regardless of where the two devices are.

    Users will be able to opt into the Exposure Notifications System on iOS devices in the device’s settings. Android device users can enroll by downloading their state’s app from the Google Play store.

    The app is part of a joint effort between Google and Apple.

    The pilot program is a partnership between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Michigan State University.

    Because use of the app is voluntary, its effectiveness depends largely on its adoption rate.

    Students will be encouraged to enroll in the program during the pilot test through a communication campaign, which will also focus on increasing perceptions of the importance of contact tracing and the value of the app in more effective and efficient exposure notification.

    Contact tracing plays a key role in safely reopening Michigan’s economy and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

    Currently, the state relies on traditional investigations and phone calls to alert people that they may have come into contact with someone who tested positive.

    Ten other states already use the system, and at least eight more have apps currently in development.