Michigan's new COVID-19 app isn't perfect, but it will help

Nov 10, 2020 at 10:35 am
click to enlarge Smartphone technology can help with contact tracing. - Shutterstock
Smartphone technology can help with contact tracing.

As coronavirus cases continue to soar, Michigan rolled out a new app on Monday to help warn people of possible exposure to the virus.

Developed by Apple and Google, MI COVID Alert is available for free for iOS and Android devices. Using wireless Bluetooth technology, the app warns users if they may have recently been in close contact with another app user who tested positive, alerting them to get tested and quarantine. It does this anonymously, so you won't know who the contact is or where it happened.

No doubt this technology will be a useful tool for fighting the coronavirus. But there are a few shortcomings. For one, the app relies on people to get tested, and to voluntarily and manually upload their test results to the app. While some industries in Michigan, like farming, have compulsory testing, many do not. So the app is only as useful as long as Michiganders are being diligent about getting tested. (If you want to get tested, you can find a free testing site here.)

You also have to manually upload the anonymous IDs collected from nearby users for the past 14 days. Again, that relies on people to do the right thing, not the app itself.

Of course, the more people become aware of it and download it, the more useful the app will be. And the app isn't Michigan only instrument for contact tracing. If you upload a positive test result, someone from the state's team of contact tracers will reach out to collect information about your close contacts, even if they don't have the app. Again, sharing this information is voluntary and something that relies on the user to do.

In short, we can't rely on the app to do all the work. It's up to us to be careful — but given Michigan's surging coronavirus cases, it seems that many of us aren't.

"The app is designed to help improve contact tracing so that we can slow the spread of the virus," the app's website says. "It makes the best use of Bluetooth technology to do this. But Bluetooth is not 100% perfect. No method of contact tracing is 100% perfect."

For now, the best line of defense against the coronavirus is social distancing, keeping six feet apart from others, wearing a mask in public, and washing your hands.

You can download the app here.

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