Irish company’s contact tracing app to go live in the US

Public health authorities in Pennsylvnia working with Waterford-based Nearform

More than 1.72m people have already downloaded Covid Tracker Ireland, making it the most successfully-adopted contact tracing app launch in the world. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

More than 1.72m people have already downloaded Covid Tracker Ireland, making it the most successfully-adopted contact tracing app launch in the world. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

A contact tracing app developed by Waterford-based tech company Nearform is set to go live in Pennsylvania, marking the first use of the the Irish technology in the US.

The app, called Covid Alert, uses the Covid Green code that the Health Service Executive donated to the Linux Foundation Public Health project.

Nearform, which developed the Covid Tracker Ireland app for the Health Service Executive, confirmed in July that it was working with public health authorities in Pennsylvania to utilise the app. Development has now been completed, and the app is set to be launched shortly.

Colm Harte, head of product for Nearform, said the Irish company would look after the back-end systems for the Pennsylvania app. Although it is using the same technology as the Irish app, the potential user base is far larger than in Ireland.

“We’ll do some increased level of performance testing to ensure it can handle a larger load,” he said. “One of the unknowns in the US is just what the public will make of it.”

Pennsylvania has more than 133,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and more than 76,000 deaths from the disease.

Other states are set to follow Pennsylvania’s lead, with three others set to launch a version of the Covid Green app in the coming weeks. In the US, Virginia was the first state to launch a contact tracing app using the Google and Apple system, although it does not use the Covid Green code.

In the US, the Association of Public Health Laboratories is also supporting a National Key Server, which will allow cross-border contact tracing.

Nearform also developed the apps being used in Northern Ireland and Gibraltar and has done a deal with Scotland to develop a similar app.

More than 1.72 million people have already downloaded Covid Tracker Ireland, making it the most successfully-adopted contact tracing app launch in the world. An issue that affected battery life on Android devices meant 83,000 people deleted the app, with more than 10,000 reinstalling it once Google addressed the problem. Before the fix was rolled out, the app had 1,573,020 downloads, meaning it has continued to add more users since the glitch was resolved.

Public health authorities will want to see that adoption continue to ensure optimum coverage for the app.

Covid Tracker Ireland has already picked up a number of cases, with the HSE confirming hundreds of contacts have been notified through the app since its launch.

There have been questions raised about the effectiveness of contact tracing apps, particularly around the accuracy of Bluetooth in measuring distances. Privacy experts have also voiced their concerns over the data gathered by Google through its underlying Play Services system, which includes identifying data points and “fine-grained data” from other apps, including banking and dating apps.

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