State govt. rolls out COVID-19 alert app statewide

    Michigan State University sign during COVID-19 pandemic | Susan J. Demas

    Two state departments on Monday announced the statewide rollout of a free COVID-19 exposure notification app.  

    The app was piloted at Michigan State University with Ingham County government participation, as the Advance first reported in early October. Known as MI COVID Alert, the product lets users know whether they may have recently been exposed to coronavirus. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services DHHS) and Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) issued the announcement. 

    “COVID cases and deaths are now rising fast,” said Robert Gordon, DHHS director. “Using MI COVID Alert on your cell phone is a simple, safe step that everyone can take to protect themselves and their loved ones. It’s free, it’s easy, and it protects your privacy.” 

    As of Monday, Michigan has 216,804 COVID-19 cases and 7,640 have died from the virus. Michigan has broken records for daily cases several times in the last weeks as hospitalizations have spiked.

    Michigan to begin pilot testing COVID-19 contact tracing app

    Here’s how it works: 

    If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they receive a randomly generated PIN from a local health department or state of Michigan case investigators. It will allow the government agency to share their test results anonymously on the app. 

    The app uses randomly generated phone codes and low-energy Bluetooth technology instead of GPS location to protect privacy while looking back in time to determine close contact with other phones that have the app. 

    If someone was in close contact with another person who submitted a positive COVID-19 test result, the close contact will receive a push notification once the positive test result is entered into the system. A notification means the app user was possibly within six feet for at least 15 minutes of someone who tested positive. State government agencies worked with Apple and Google to make MI COVID Alert compatible with similar apps in other states. 

    In the initial weeks of the MSU-Ingham County pilot alone, 46,704 people downloaded the app. 

    “This app has the potential to provide the kind of early exposure notification that is critical to preventing the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Norman J. Beauchamp Jr., MSU executive vice president for health sciences. “In addition to wearing a mask, social distancing and getting tested, downloading the app is one of the most important steps we can take to help keep our communities safe.”

    State officials urge people who are exposed to coronavirus to get tested and consider quarantining, including watching for symptoms for 14 days from the date of possible exposure. 

    Individuals in need of testing may visit the COVID-19 website to find a testing location near them. They may also contact the Michigan COVID-19 hotline by calling 888-535-6136 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.