Get the App, Stop the Spread: COVID Alert NY


Alina Chan

The homepage of the COVID Alert NY App displays a health log, along with COVID-19 data in New York State.

Since the start of 2020, COVID-19 has brought tragedy, taking the lives of over 241,000 Americans. New York City was among the first areas in the country that got hit the hardest by the Coronavirus, as daily cases reached an all-time high of over 12,000 back in April 2020. Although rates have gone down since then, there have been recent surges in certain areas of Queens and Brooklyn. In response, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) released their new COVID Alert NY app on October 1st, 2020. 

With these new hot spots, the app could not have come at a better time. COVID Alert NY, available for download on the App Store and Google Play Store, is an exposure notification app that anonymously alerts those who have been exposed to the virus. When downloaded, it notifies the phone user if they have been within six feet for longer than 10 minutes of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Users who simply pass by or stand farther than six feet away will not be alerted or added to the list of exposed contacts. 

The newly developed app also provides other important features, separated into four sections with a user-friendly layout. The settings allow users to change the language, to send feedback and data anonymously, to delete personal information, to read the privacy policies, and to learn about how the app works. Its homepage has a daily health log where the user can keep track of their symptoms while helping public health researchers observe how New York is being affected by the virus. Privacy precautions are also set in place; the log is anonymous and cannot disclose identities to the researchers. 

In another section dedicated to NY COVID data, graphs of the most recent Coronavirus rates and cases can be organized either by counties or New York State as a whole. The app also has information on what happens when the user tests positive and how to proceed from there. It includes information on how to slow the spread, the numbers of hotlines to receive more information, and where to find a testing site. “It’s a nicely organized app. I like how it integrates well with iOS devices like iPhones and helps to detect those around you,” said Jason Sethiadi ’21.

After the app was released, concerns and worries began to spread in regards to its privacy and security. Contrary to rumors, the app does not in any way, shape, or form collect, store, or broadcast personal information. When notified that they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, the user will not know the identity of the infected person.

According to the app, “If another app user spends 10 minutes within 6 feet of you, your phones swap random codes to remember the contact. These codes don’t say anything about you or your location.” The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) has made public statements that the software uses Bluetooth technology to sense when another app user comes near so that information remains private and confidential. Any data recorded about the user is anonymous, and the information sent to the NYSDOH cannot be used to identify them. Personal information can be deleted at any time by going to the app’s settings and selecting the menu option “Delete my Data.”  

“It’s like the game ‘Among Us’ in that identities are not disclosed. It also does not use cellular data, just Bluetooth, so you don’t have to pay extra to have it on for long periods,” said Sara Poon ’21. 

The release of the COVID Alert NY app is essential to slowing down the spread of COVID-19. Being alerted about potential exposures to COVID-19 can reduce the risk of loved ones also contracting it. “You’d want to know if you’re sick when you’re sick, rather than be paranoid. The people in your community would want to know if they’ve been exposed too,” said Poon. 

If every citizen did their part by downloading the app, self-isolating, getting tested, and following health guidelines set by the CDC, the possibility of New Yorkers contracting the virus would immensely plummet. “The more people who download it, the less that COVID-19 will spread. We need to do our part to promote the welfare of our country,” said Catherine Li ’21. The battle against the novel Coronavirus is not over yet, but the first step to victory would be to download the COVID Alert NY app and protect our fellow New Yorkers.

“It’s a nicely organized app. I like how it integrates well with iOS devices like iPhones and helps to detect those around you,” said Jason Sethiadi ’21.