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Colorado partnering with Apple, Google for software that can notify people exposed to COVID-19

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DENVER – Colorado officials announced Tuesday the state would be partnering with Apple and Google and rolling out cell phone services later this month to help with anonymous COVID-19 exposure and contact tracing for people who opt in.

The two tech giants announced on Sept. 1 they were expanding their “Exposure Notifications Express” software programs that were first launched in April, saying they had streamlined the systems to make it easier for local public health departments to use in various states.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Sarah Tuneberg, the state’s innovation response team lead, announced Tuesday that Colorado would be among the states participating in the partnership and outlined how the software would work on iOS and Android devices as customized by Colorado along with the two companies

For Apple iOS users, the software would be available after a forthcoming iOS update, and people can choose whether or not to turn on the feature. Android users would need to download the EN Express app once it becomes available. Tuneberg says the state expects the rollout to happen before the end of September. Several other states have already committed to, or are currently using, the software.

Once the software is activated on a person’s phone, it would work in the background exchanging “tokens” or “keys,” as Tuneberg put it, through Bluetooth with other people’s devices that are nearby and have the software activated as well.

If someone who has the software tests positive for the virus, push notifications would be sent out to the devices that person’s phone interacted with recently notifying them they were possibly exposed to the virus.

Tuneberg stressed that the software would not relay any personal health information of the people who use it and that it does not track or report location information or get saved “in any way, shape or form.”

She said the data is stored for 14 days before it is automatically erased and said there was “very, very strong” security around the token, stressing also that people will not be required to opt-in to the services, though the state will launch a public education campaign about the software.

Tuneberg and Polis said that the software would be another tool to help Colorado better track coronavirus in the state and more quickly identify positive cases and possible exposures in order to keep reopening events and businesses to more people. She said the software partnership is free to the state and for people to use on their phones.

“That’s the reason we thought this was the time to use this technology, because we believe it is the safest, strongest way to do it,” she said.

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