CA Notify
The CA Notify system is tested at UC Berkeley in November. Photo by Patrick Holmes for UC Berkeley

Gov. Gavin Newsom Monday announced a statewide smartphone-based system designed to notify residents when they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

The CA Notify system was originally developed at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco, and it has been deployed on a trial basis on seven UC campuses, with an estimated 250,000 people opting in to participate, Newsom said.

The system relies on Bluetooth technology that detects when a person is in close proximity to others, thanks to anonymous signals transmitted among cell phones. When a person who has opted into the program tests positive for COVID-19, the person can then consent to have all of their recent close contacts notified by cell phone.

Those contacts then receive a notification on their phone, alerting them that they have recently been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. The idea is to more rapidly reach people who may have unknowingly contracted the virus and could be passing it along to others, giving them a chance to get tested and go into quarantine.

The program will not replace traditional contact-tracing efforts, but Newsom described it as “another tool in the toolbox” to supplement those efforts.

The city and county of Los Angeles announced a similar program earlier this year, partnering with the Citizen crime-tracking app. That program also required participants to opt in, since it requires constant tracking of a person’s location to determine if they were in an area where virus exposure may have occurred.

The CA Notify program conducts similar tracking through the Bluetooth system, but Newsom stressed that the information is not collected or made public.

The program will begin on Thursday.

Android phone users will need to download the CA Notify app to take part in the program. Apple iPhone users will not have to download and app. The notify program will be available in the phone’s Settings menu, and users can opt in to receive notifications of possible exposures.

Cell phone users across the state will receive a notification on their phones prior to Thursday, notifying them of the availability of the system and the need to opt in.

–City News Service