On Monday the State of Michigan launched a voluntary, free coronavirus app, MI COVID Alert, that informs users if they have possibly been in close contact with people infected with COVID-19. The announcement came on the heels of the state piloting the technology in Ingham County, including at Michigan State University, according to the Associated Press. More than 46,000 people downloaded the app onto their smartphones, according to the article.
State Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon urged Michiganders to add the app to their phones, too, especially as COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations have increased after the pandemic’s first wave died down in the spring. “I would encourage folks — try it out, put it on your phone. I think you’ll see that it’s free, it’s easy, it doesn’t gob up a lot of battery,” he told
The Associated Press. “Once you’re using it, then you get your friends and family to use it, too. If you do that, as a group you’re going to be a little bit safer.”
Those who test positive for COVID-19 are given a PIN by contact tracers that allows them to share their result anonymously on the app, which uses Bluetooth technology and randomly generated phone codes to track people’s locations, the article added. Other app users who possibly were within six feet of infected people for at least 15 minutes are notified and urged to monitor for symptoms, be tested and self-isolate, the article added. They are not informed on who tested positive. Other states have launched similar apps, like New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona and Alabama.
Kristen Kennard, licensed professional counselor, who runs a private practice out of Detroit-based Full Bloom Counseling and Consulting, PLLC, told the Michigan Chronicle that although privacy measures are put in place, people are still “in such a state” where people are concerned about privacy.
“From a physiological perspective I think the challenge [with] something like that presents [itself] in our current climate there is a lot of distrust,” Kennard said, adding that while she is a proponent of the app and technological advances to help keep people safe, she could see some people having concerns. “[It] still leaves a lot of room for doubt.”
Kennard added that when it comes to things relative to the health and wellbeing in the Black community she has seen disparities working in healthcare and how the Black community has borne the brunt of getting the short end of the stick, and that is where the distrust can play a factor.
“I think there are going to be some challenges to that and [even if] all of that has been spelled out. … How many of us are reading the fine print on apps that we upload anyway?” Kennard said.
Kennard, who recently ate from two restaurants, said for contract tracing purposes the establishments had clipboards requesting patrons to fill out their name and phone number.
Kennard said while she understands as a healthcare provider the need for that information, from a privacy perspective, anyone could see her information. She added that while the app may be secure it still feels like the “same thing.”
“I can see the greater good for it but how can I be assured you are protecting my anonymity and healthcare information and it doesn’t get into the wrong hands of someone else?” she said.
Regardless of where someone stands, safety measures are continuing to roll out, like Beaumont Health, reinstating their patient visitor restrictions at three of its eight Detroit-area hospitals, effective today.
“We’ve had a notable rise in COVID-19 cases in metro Detroit,” Dr. Nick Gilpin, medical director of infection prevention and epidemiology, said in the article. “Community positivity rates have jumped to 8-11% in the area. Last spring, we took care of the most COVID-19 patients in the state and we know that taking difficult steps like restricting visitors will help us keep our patients and our staff safe.”