COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are now active in Utah

Here's how you opt-in on Android and Apple devices
Posted at 9:36 AM, Feb 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-21 11:36:38-05

Exposure Notifications are now available on Android and Apple devices in Utah.

It's a form of digital contact tracing that uses Bluetooth to broadcast a random set of numbers, or tokens, to nearby smartphones that are also signed up to the service.

To make sure the tokens can’t be used to identify you or your location, Google and Apple say they change every 10 to 20 minutes.

George McEwan, the IT Director at the Utah Department of Health said, "Think about it like a digital raffle where your phone is handing out tickets to everyone you meet and you’re keeping half and they’re keeping half."

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they enter a pin code into Exposure Notifications, which is sent to them by the Utah Department of Health.

Any smartphones that exchanged tokens within the last 14 days will get a notification that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, without revealing the positive person's identity.

McEwan said, "It works off of signal strength, so it's looking for a distance of 6 feet and 15 minutes of consecutive time spent in that range."

How to add Exposure Notifications to your phone:

On an Apple device

  • Go to settings
  • Select “Exposure Notifications”
  • Select “Turn on Exposure Notifications”
  • Select “United States”
  • Select “Utah”
  • Read and agree to terms of use

On an Android device

  • Visit the Google Play store.
  • Download the "UT Exposure Notifications" app
  • Complete the in-app setup

The only data the Utah Department of Health can see is how many COVID positive pin codes they have issued, and how many of them have been used.

All of the Exposure Notification matching happens on your device and the system does not share your identity with other users, Apple, or Google.

Public health authorities may ask you for additional information, such as a phone number, to contact you with additional guidance.

Exposure Notifications is completely separate from the Healthy Together app that Utah rolled out near the beginning of the pandemic.

McEwan said, "The Healthy Together app was designed to interact with the user to provide them with test results, allow them to do symptom checking, to provide a health passport, so that requires a one-to-one relationship where the app is aware of who the user is. The Google/Apple exposure notifications rely specifically on anonymity. It has no management of the user back and forth in terms of what you would see from the Healthy Together app."

Jenny Johnson, the Public Information Officer at the Utah Department of Health said, "Unfortunately the Healthy Together app didn’t quite work the way that I think the state had thought it might. People were very hesitant because it did use both Bluetooth and location services in your phone."

Unlike the earliest version of Utah's Healthy Together App, Exposure Notifications does not track your GPS location.

Exposure Notifications can work across the country too.

"If you are in Utah and you travel to another region where the service is active and you return to Utah and that person then notifies their health department they are positive and they mark their keys as positive, you’ll still know about it in Utah," said McEwan.

Health authorities hope this will help more people know if they have been exposed to COVID-19, so they can get tested and treated sooner, rather than later.

"That’s the beauty of the tech is that it does narrow it down to the very probable individuals who could have exposed you to COVID, not everyone who was in a room," said McEwan.

Exposure Notifications rely on as many people opting into the service in order to be as effective as possible.

Johnson said, "There’s been some modeling in other states, which shows even a small adoption by a population of this technology can help augment existing public health contact tracing efforts, which can lower hospitalizations and even deaths in the pandemic."

You can also turn off Exposure Notifications at any time if you feel it's something that's not right for you.

"I think there will always be a segment of the population that is much more willing to engage in something like this and of course there’s going to be a group that isn’t going to do this," said Johnson.

You can find more information about Exposure Notifications on Utah's Coronavirus website or Google's explainer page.