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November 30, 2020

Teenagers can now download Pa.'s COVID-19 contact tracing app

COVID Alert Pennsylvania uses Bluetooth technology to notify users of potential exposures

Prevention COVID-19
COVID Alert PA app Rahul Chakraborty/Unsplash

Children ages 13 to 18 now can download COVID Alert Pennsylvania, the state's contact tracing app.

Pennsylvania officials have expanded access to the state's COVID-19 contact tracing app by permitting teenagers to download it.

The app, COVID Alert Pennsylvania, has been available to adults since its launch in September. Now, children who are at least 13 years old also can get the app on their smartphones.

Anyone who downloads COVID Alert PA will receive a notification if they spend more than 15 minutes within six feet of a user who has recently tested positive for the coronavirus. The notification also instructs the user on the next steps to take. 

The app's expansion could aid contact tracing in schools, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said.

"By expanding the age range, we can hopefully increase the number of individuals who download the app, increasing its effectiveness to help control the spread of this dangerous virus, especially in school settings," Levine said in a statement Monday.

Health officials also advise people who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 to download the app so their location information can be used to advise other users of a potential exposure.

The app has been downloaded 622,000 times so far, according to state officials. There have been 326 people who confirmed their positive test results through the app, generating 144 exposure alerts to users who came in close contact with them. 

The app uses anonymous Bluetooth signals to determine when users have been exposed. Data is kept anonymous by using encryption and anonymous identifier beacons that frequently change. The app does not store location data, personal information or the identities of people who were possibly exposed. 

Coronavirus cases continue to surge in Pennsylvania. 

State officials reported 4,268 new cases Monday, increasing the state's total to 361,464. The virus has caused 10,383 deaths, including 32 on Sunday. 

The 14-day average number of hospitalized patients has increased by 3,000 since late September. There currently are 4,405 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

There were 4,212 new COVID-19 cases among children ages 5 to 18 during the seven-day stretch beginning Nov. 20, bringing the statewide total to 27,954 since the pandemic began. 

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