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New York rolls out COVID-19 app that uses Bluetooth to trace infections

New York has launched a new contact tracing app that will alert users if they’ve been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. 

The app, COVID Alert NY, was released Thursday as the state continues to see an alarming surge in infections primarily in New York City, where the positivity rate reached 1.52 percent yesterday.  

Gov Andrew Cuomo explained how the technology works during a press conference, saying that it uses Bluetooth technology to sense when a person spends more than 10 minutes within six feet of another user.  

The app will keep track of a person’s contacts so that if they do test positive, anyone who may have been at risk of contracting the virus from them beforehand can be notified by the health department – if they also have the app downloaded.

Cuomo assured that no names will appear on the app so that personal privacy is protected, and said that the app will not collect or store any personal information. 

He noted that downloading the app is voluntary but urged as many people as possible to sign up.  

‘It’s using technology really on a level it’s never been used before,’ the governor said, adding that the app will be hugely helpful to the 15,000 ‘disease detectives’ already performing contact tracing in the state. 

New York launched a new contact tracing app that will alert users if they've been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday

New York launched a new contact tracing app that will alert users if they've been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday

New York launched a new contact tracing app that will alert users if they’ve been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday

Cuomo’s office stressed that the app has been vetted by national security experts to ensure that it won’t pose any risk of violating personal privacy.  

‘We don’t collect any data,’ aide Larry Schwartz said. 

‘There’s no locator device on the app, so it doesn’t track anyone who downloads the app at all, we were very sensitive to making sure – the key to this is to get people to voluntary download the app, otherwise it doesn’t work.’

The app – developed with help from Google, Apple and the Linux Foundation – is now available for free download on iPhones and Android devices for anyone 18 and older. 

New York was able to release it for free thanks to federal funding and donations from the Bloomberg Philanthropy Organization which covered the $700,000 development cost.   

Cuomo said New Jersey and Delaware have already started using the same app and that Connecticut and Pennsylvania will be online soon. 

He added that the technology will be available to any state interested in using it. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the app on Thursday, saying: 'It's using technology really on a level it's never been used before' (file photo)

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the app on Thursday, saying: ‘It’s using technology really on a level it’s never been used before’ (file photo)

The app roll-out came as New York state ramps up efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus amid rising infection rates – driven primarily by clusters in New York City. 

Coronavirus clusters in 10 zip codes across Brooklyn and Queens had caused the average citywide seven-day infection rate to rise to 1.52 percent, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday.  

New York City on Thursday recorded its highest daily new case average in at least a month with 394 coronavirus infections.  

The 10 zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens are now also part of the 20 hotspots zip codes across New York state that collectively have an average infection rate of 6.5 percent, Cuomo said on Thursday. 

The seven-day infection rate average was 1.38 percent on Tuesday but has since climbed to 1.52 percent, the latest figures from Mayor Bill de Blasio showed on Thursday

The seven-day infection rate average was 1.38 percent on Tuesday but has since climbed to 1.52 percent, the latest figures from Mayor Bill de Blasio showed on Thursday

Those 20 hotspot clusters have not resulted in a statewide spike in the infection rate, which is currently at 1.27 percent.  

Prior to the recent uptick in NYC, the positivity rate – which is the proportion of positive results out of the total number of tests performed – had long hovered around one percent.

According to authorities, the uptick in cases is occurring in Brooklyn neighborhoods with significant populations of Orthodox Jews and coincides with gatherings linked to the recent holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

The zip codes with the uptick in cases have accounted for about 25 percent of the city’s new daily cases in the last two weeks. 

While NYC’s positivity rates remain low compared to other major cities across the country, de Blasio said the uptick was concerning.   

The latest figures were released on a day when the final wave of students returned to schools across the city for in-person classes. 

De Blasio warned that he would shut schools down again if the average positivity rate across NYC exceeded 3 percent.  

The Brooklyn neighborhoods seeing an uptick include: Edgemere/Far Rockaway (4.74%), Gravesend/Homecrest (6.9%), Midwood (5.62%), Borough Park (6.51%), Bensonhurt/Mapleton (6.31%), Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay (4.13%) and Flatlands/Midwood (4.66%). 

The Queens neighborhoods include: Kew Gardens (3.29%), Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok (3.68%) and Fresh Meadows/Hillcrest (3.08%). 

New York City on Thursday recorded its highest daily new case average in at least a month with 394 coronavirus infections

New York City on Thursday recorded its highest daily new case average in at least a month with 394 coronavirus infections

The clusters in the 10 zip codes had caused the average citywide infection rate to rise, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday

The clusters in the 10 zip codes had caused the average citywide infection rate to rise, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday

New York City on Thursday recorded its highest daily new case average in at least a month with 394 coronavirus infections. It is down from the average peak of more than 5,000 per day in April

New York City on Thursday recorded its highest daily new case average in at least a month with 394 coronavirus infections. It is down from the average peak of more than 5,000 per day in April

De Blasio said the city was sending police and health workers to impacted neighborhoods to promote distancing and mask-wearing – and to issue summons if necessary to anyone refusing to comply. 

Gov Cuomo also noted that cases are spiking in parts of the New York suburbs that are home to Orthodox communities and said he had spoken to religious leaders to discuss combating the spread. 

‘A cluster today can become community spread tomorrow,’ Cuomo said. ‘These ZIP codes are not hermetically sealed.’

He implored local authorities to increase enforcement measures.

‘If they’re not wearing masks, they should be fined,’ Cuomo said. ‘If you speed in your car, you get a ticket. That’s how it works.’ 

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