The California Department of Public Health and the California Department of technology have partnered together to launch new technology that will help people know if they have been potentially exposed to COVID-19.
The tech launched on Thursday and allows California residents to receive notifications informing them if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus so they can take immediate actions around quarantine and testing.
"We want all Californians to add their phone to the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 because the tool works best when more people sign up," said Dr. Erica Pan, Acting State Public Health Officer. "Combined with other actions like physical distancing and wearing masks, CA Notify helps Californians anonymously keep themselves, their loved ones, and their communities safe."
The technology uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes between phones without revealing the user's identity or location. When someone is tested for COVID-19, they will receive a text message from (855) 976-8462. This text will remind CA Notify users who receive a positive test result from a provider or laboratory to enter their verification code into their phone using CA Notify. Any other CA Notify users who were within six feet of the COVID-19 positive individual for 15 minutes or more when that person was most likely to be infectious will get an anonymous notification of possible exposure.
Californians with iPhones can enable CA Notify in their settings and Android phone users can download the CA Notify app from the Google Play Store.
The CDPH said the use of the app is voluntary and that all data would be kept private and secure. People can opt out of using it at any time.
"The technology is 100% voluntary and secure and provides Californians immediate information and links to resources when they've been exposed to COVID-19," said Amy Tong, Director of CDT. "We are proud the Golden State is making this innovative tool available statewide to encourage more Californians to do their part to keep others safe."
The state launched a pilot in September for students, staff, and faculty at UC San Diego and UC San Francisco and expanded it to include five other UC campuses in mid-November. The privacy-first focus of CA Notify does not allow the state to know how many people opted into the system, but the UC system estimates more than 250,000 individuals are utilizing the technology as part of the pilot.
"Our pilot experience starting at UC San Diego and expanding to other UC campuses showed this technology was effective in identifying exposed individuals early for quarantine and testing, and helping keep our communities as safe as possible," said Christopher Longhurst, MD, chief information officer of UC San Diego Health. "This free and reliable smartphone technology can help all Californians. As we enter a new, and hopefully final, surge in the pandemic, now more than ever is the time to put every possible tool to use to slow the spread of the virus."
CA Notify is not a contact tracing app but augments the contact tracing process by issuing exposure notifications to people you may not know.
The launch of the app comes as the state and locally is seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. As of Friday, Stanislaus County has had 25,936 positive COVID-19 cases. Of those, 2,030 are deemed probable cases and 3,296 are presumed active, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. In total, the county has recorded 463 COVID-19 deaths.
The San Joaquin Valley had an ICU bed availability of 4.5% on Friday, according to the CDPH, which was the lowest in the state. Regional shutdowns were ordered when ICU bed capacity falls below 15%.
In Stanislaus County, the ICU availability was at 6.6% with eight ICU beds available on Friday. Hospital bed availability was at 31.1 percent. There are currently 297 residents hospitalized in Stanislaus County with 63 in the ICU, according to the SCHSA.
The number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU has doubled in the last two weeks, said Kamlesh Kaur the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services spokesperson during the weekly community briefing.
"This is a critical time not just for our community, but our region as well," Kaur said.
Stanislaus County has reactivated plans made earlier this year to deal with a wave of patients that could surpass the capacity of local hospitals. part of the plan would call upon staffing from other resources, including retired medical professionals, med students and the National Guard. It also would send non-COVID-19 patients to the state overflow facility at Sacramento's Arco/Sleep Train Arena and possibly open the old Scenic General hospital in Modesto.