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Persichilli discusses creation of coronavirus contact tracing application in NJ

New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the application will detect when an individual comes in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and provide them with information on what to do next. – Photo by Thomas Costello / Gannett

During a press conference yesterday, New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli spoke on the state’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contact tracing efforts.

“We have been working hard to establish a robust contact tracing program in our state,” she said. “Contact tracing is key to any public health effort to contain the spread of disease, (but) it can have limitations if individuals don’t cooperate or if they have close contact with individuals they don’t know.”

Persichilli said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information from a study on two contact tracing programs in North Carolina, which showed there were difficulties with resident participation in the programs. A high percentage of individuals who had contracted COVID-19 did not report who they had been in contact with, she said.

The CDC concluded that improved timeliness of contact tracing and community engagement is needed in order to mitigate the spread of the virus, she said.

“To enhance New Jersey’s contact tracing efforts, we are enlisting technology,” she said. “We have begun piloting an exposure notification mobile application. In addition to testing the app with state workers internally, we also have been testing the app with three colleges: Montclair State University, Passaic County Community College and Stockton University.”

Through bluetooth technology, the app will detect and log anonymous codes from devices with the app that have been in close contact — within 6 feet for 10 or more minutes — of an infected user, Persichilli said. Individuals will then be notified if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and will be provided with further steps.

In regards to user privacy, Persichilli said the app will not collect personal information or utilize location technology.

She said the app will also provide updated COVID-19 case numbers, deaths, hospitalizations by county and symptom tracking.

“This testing period is vital to improve the user experience and to resolve any technical issues that arise,” she said. “In total, we’ve had 130 individuals piloting the app. It has been receiving good reviews from testers 4.6 out of 5 stars, and the issues raised by those who found problems are being addressed.”

Piloting for the app will conclude this week and any necessary changes will be made by the app’s developer prior to making it available statewide, Persichilli said.

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