Irish Covid app developer launches contact tracing app in Pennsylvania

Second US state uses Waterford company’s technology

Waterford-based NearForm has launched a Covid contact tracing app in Pennsylvania, the second US state to use its technology.

The company, which built the Covid Tracker Ireland app along with apps for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar, released an app in Delaware a week ago. Jersey is also set to use the Nearform app.

“In choosing to build the Covid Alert PA app on open source peer-reviewed technology, the State of Pennsylvania has shown its commitment to protecting its citizen’s privacy and data, while providing them with a best in class tool already launched in Delaware, Ireland and parts of the UK,” said Cian O’ Maidin, chief executive of NearForm. “The Covid Alert PA app empowers the people of Pennsylvania to join the fight against the spread of Covid-19, and helps people protect themselves and their loved ones.”

Covid Alert PA was created in partnership with local health authorities, and is based on the Google and Apple exposure notifications system, It is interoperable with other states' Apple and Google-based contact tracing apps, allowing for exposure notifications across state lines.

The app works by using the bluetooth signal on your phone to exchange a digital “handshake” with another device also running a compatible app when a user is within six feet of another for 15 minutes or more. It does not track geographical location of users.

Anonymous keys

The anonymous keys are stored in a log on the phone, which the local health authorities may ask users to upload if they receive a positive diagnosis for Covid-19. That log can then be used to track unnamed contacts, with an alert delivered to affected people through the app.

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 Nearform's code. The Association of Public Health Laboratories is also supporting a National Key Server, which will allow cross-border contact tracing.

"The last seven months have shown that we are most successful when we unite against Covid-19 and work together for the common good," Pennsylvania's governor Tom Wolf said. "Today, we are launching the Covid Alert PA mobile app. This app is a simple tool you can use to help fight Covid-19 every day, everywhere you go."