Wednesday, October 28, 2020

State departments, MSU release pilot app for early detection

October 15, 2020
Downtown East Lansing on Sept. 18, 2020. The city of East Lansing has posted signs and has information stations with free masks for those who visit the area.
Downtown East Lansing on Sept. 18, 2020. The city of East Lansing has posted signs and has information stations with free masks for those who visit the area. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

In a joint effort between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB), and Michigan State University launched a COVID-19 exposure notification app to pilot on campus and in the surrounding community in East Lansing. The app, MI COVID Alert, is free, voluntary and anonymous.

The app works by assigning those who have tested positive for COVID-19 a code that allows them to anonymously share that they have tested positive. The app then uses Bluetooth to detect nearby phones that also have the app, and if for 15 minutes, a user is within six feet of someone that has tested positive, the user will get a notification.

Dan Olsen, MSU deputy spokesperson, commented on MSU’s role in piloting this app.

"MSU agreed to sponsor this pilot project because we know that early detection is critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Olsen said. “As Spartans, we’re all committed to doing whatever it takes to keep our community safe, and this app is another important tool in that fight.”

Earlier this year, Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail pointed to MSU students to take more responsibility in handling the virus. Between Aug. 24 and Sept. 22, 1,250 cases were connected to MSU students. When asked whether or not students failing to use and report to the app was a concern, Olsen could only offer hope.

"We hope students keep an open mind on this and that they do what is best for, not only themselves, their friends, their family, their loved ones and their community," Olsen said. "We hope that by providing another tool for them to do just that, that we’re encouraging better behaviors and also partnership in taking responsibility for ourselves and for taking care of our community.”

In a press release from the Michigan State Police, they warn that this app does not replace traditional contact-tracing, mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing. They also said that anyone exposed to COVID-19 should consider getting tested and quarantining for 14 days.

In an email, MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. reiterated the importance of early detection and the role that this app will play in that.

"As an infectious disease researcher, I know how important early detection is in slowing the spread of COVID-19," Stanley said. "That's why I want to encourage every Spartan to pick up your phone and join me in downloading the app."

According to Olsen, the university will also be increasing social media campaigns to increase awareness of the app. More information on the app can be found at msu.edu/mi-covid-alert.

Individuals in need of testing can contact the Michigan COVID-19 hotline by calling 888-535-6136 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, or by dialing 211 to locate and schedule an appointment at an off-campus testing location. 

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