California's COVID-19 exposure notification app starts rolling out

CA Notify uses Apple's and Google's contract tracing framework.

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Paresh Dave / reuters

Starting later this week, people in California will be able to take another step to slow the spread of COVID-19 when the most populous state in the US rolls its own COVID exposure notification app. You’ll be able to enroll in CA Notify starting on Thursday, December 10th. With that upcoming launch, California becomes the 18th state in the US to deploy an app using Apple’s and Google’s Exposure API, which the two tech giants released in May.

If you use an iPhone, you can enroll in the program once it’s available by opening the Settings app on your phone, navigating to Exposure Notifications and then selecting California when you’re asked where you live. The only technical requirement you need to keep in mind is that you have to have iOS 13.7 or later installed on your phone. The previous version of Apple’s mobile operating system supports devices as far back as the first-generation iPhone SE and iPhone 6S. On Android, meanwhile, you’ll download the CA Notify app from the Play Store. You’ll need a phone with Android 6.0 or above.

CA Notify uses Apple and Google's Exposure Notifications System API to supplement contract tracing efforts without gathering private information or tracking your location. The framework uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to exchange automatically a private key with any nearby phones that are also running the software. If you come into contact with someone that has subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, you’ll get a notification that you may have been exposed to the virus — provided that person goes into the app and presses the relevant button. 

As The New York Times notes, epidemiologists at the University of Oxford recently found that even just 15 percent of people using digital contact tracing can help reduce the number of viral infections. As part of a pilot program, researchers at the University of Arizona believe an exposure notification app helped the campus flatten the curve during a recent outbreak over the fall.

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