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Flyer from MDHHS asking Michiganders to download the app.

State urges Michiganders to download COVID tracking application

Michigan continues to see daily cases of COVID-19, but a new tool is in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

The MI COVID alert application will notify users of Bluetooth technology if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the Corona virus.

The app was first run by the government in Ingham County. Nearly 47,000 people downloaded it during the pilot period. This is approximately 16% of the county’s total population.

Now, it is being launched on a statewide scale. Sofia Salibi of WKAR spoke to Bob Wheaton, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services about the application.

Interview Highlights

On how the application works

You can download it on your phone at the Apple or Google App Store, and look for the MI COVID alert. Very easy to download. Then, for a person who tests positive for COVID-19 in Michigan, their local health department gives them a thorn in their side. If the phone, which was within six feet of their phone for 15 minutes or more after they entered that pin, is considered to be in close contact with someone with COVID-19, the application will be alerted that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Regarding how secure Michigan’s sensitive information is

We want it to be personal. We do not want people to worry about sharing anything, their name, or their health information or anything like that with anyone. Therefore, we have a lot of security procedures in place so that your name or any personally identifiable information will not be shared with anyone else, whether it is someone you have exposed or any other outsiders.

On why Michigan sees more cases of COVID-19

There are many things going on that we think could contribute to this huge increase. Although we have had some moderately hot weather for the past few days, people are moving into the house as the weather cools down. You know, people spend more time in the summer, where the risk of spreading is lower. There may be a case for people getting tired of fighting COVID-19. Everyone is tired of it. In eight or nine months it is very difficult. But one thing our director says is that we are tired of COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not tired of us. It still is. It’s not out yet. People need to know that their security should not be compromised.

Interview transcript

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Sofia Salibi: This is all that is considered in WKAR. I am Sofia Salibi.

Michigan continues to see daily cases of COVID-19, but a new tool is in place to prevent the spread of the disease. The MI COVID alert application will notify users of Bluetooth technology if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the Corona virus.

The app was first run by the government in Ingham County. Now, it is being launched on a statewide scale. Bob Wheaton is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

He now joins me to explain more about this application. Thank you for coming here.

Bob Wheaton: Thanks for calling me.

Sofia Salibi: So, how does this application really work?

Wheaton: You can download it on your phone at the Apple or Google App Store, and look for the MI COVID alert. Very easy to download.

For a person who tests positive for COVID-19 in Michigan, their local health department gives them a thorn in their side. If the phone, which was within six feet of their phone for 15 minutes or more after they entered that pin, is considered to be in close contact with someone with COVID-19, the application will be alerted that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Then they can be tested and they can be isolated [and] They can do whatever it takes to protect their family, friends and others in the community from further spread of COVID-19. It is completely anonymous. So, for example, you are not told the name or location details of that person, you have now been told that you have a close relationship with COVID-19.

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சாலிபி: If you receive that warning on your phone, what should you do next?

Wheaton: It is best to call your local health department and discuss with them what action you should take. Generally, you will want to test to determine if you have COVID-19.

Again, you can talk to your local health department about this, but we usually advise people to isolate themselves once they find out that they may be exposed to COVID-19. Then after they have been examined, they can consult with their local health department again to determine how long they should be isolated or if they positively test how long they should be isolated from others, i.e. in addition, stay in your own home, room as much as you can, and stay away from others in your family.

சாலிபி: It is the personal health and location information of the people. How do you keep it safe?

We want it to be personal. We do not want people to worry about sharing anything, their name, or their health information or anything like that with anyone.

Wheaton: Yes, it is something very important. We want it to be personal. We do not want people to worry about sharing anything, their name, or their health information or anything like that with anyone.

Therefore, there are a lot of security practices in your name or any personally identifiable information will not be shared with anyone else, even if it is someone you have exposed to or any other outsiders.

So yes, we have privacy in mind. Also, people need to know that this is not something that will be displayed on their phone. They need to take action to download the app, which we hope people will do because it will help control the spread of COVID-19.

சாலிபி: You run the app around Ingham County and Michigan State University. How many people download it and use it statewide before it even starts?

Wheaton: In the early weeks of the pilot there were nearly 47,000 people who downloaded the app. So, we thought this was a good proof as a lot of people are interested in the need of the app. That figure represents approximately 16% of the total Ingham County population.

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People may have downloaded it from outside Ingham County, but there are still a significant number of people who are interested in downloading and using it for a relatively short period of time. We launched the app statewide on Tuesday, and we had even stronger, stronger interest in it.

சாலிபி: We see an increase in COVID-19 cases in Michigan almost every day. What has changed and what can Michiganders do to stay healthy and safe?

Wheaton: There are many things going on that we think could contribute to this huge increase. Although we have had some moderately hot weather for the past few days, people are moving into the house as the weather cools down. You know, people spend more time in the summer, where the risk of spreading is lower.

We are tired of COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not tired of us. It still is.

There may be a case for people getting tired of fighting COVID-19. Everyone is tired of it. In eight or nine months it is very difficult. But one thing our director says is that we are tired of COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not tired of us. It still is. It’s not out yet.

People need to know that they should not compromise their security because we have holidays and things like that. We advise people to limit those meetings this year to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, we believe that they contribute to the increase in case numbers about us, which is why people need to be careful and, again, wear masks and physical distance, avoid large crowds and wash their hands frequently, all of these things that people have been doing since the onset of the infection.

சாலிபி: Bob Wheaton is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Thanks for joining me.

Wheaton: thank you very much.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.