Over 6 million opt in for California state alert system, others urged to join

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LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — The CA Notify app launched last week on Thursday and as of Monday, the State Department of Public Health tells NewsNation 6.5 million Californians have opted-in.

While that’s just 25% of smartphone users in the state, it is a quick start and enough to make a difference. Less than four days since its public launch, activation of the CA Notify app is already closing in on seven million. For many, it offers less fear of the unknown.

“Right now, it’s like everybody is a zombie. You all have an infection but you don’t know who has it or has been exposed or if you have it which is kind of weird, right. So at least some kind of certainty about what’s happened not around you. It’s more than wondering if you’ve been infected,” said Bria White, California resident.

The same technology is in use in almost twenty states but California is the most populous. And it’s the home of Google and Apple which worked jointly to develop the system.

“You opt in, or you choose not to. And there is no tracking,” said Governor of California Gavin Newsom.

Since that reassurance from the Governor as he introduced CA Notify last week, the opt-in rate of 25% so far offers some new hope.

“This is a situation where something is better than nothing. Widespread adoption would of course be more useful than what we have now. But I do think that it’s possible that we’ll get there,” said Dr. Russell Buhr, Pulmonologist, UCLA Health. “And we have to remember too that not everybody in California has a smartphone that’s capable of running the software either.”

Due to the system design, developers say there is no exact data on those who have opted in. The app uses Bluetooth to track when smartphones have been in close range for over 15 minutes. Users would get a phone notification should someone they’ve been exposed to test positive for COVID-19. And those notifying others of a positive test would be anonymous.

“Hopefully, no one uses it for nefarious activities and sell your information. If they don’t do that that’d be great. But as long as it’s very clear that that’s not being used for that then it’s good to go,” said California resident David Simmons.

The state and developers have stressed privacy protection. The identifiers exchanged through the platform are not linked to your identity or location but many Californians are skeptical for other reasons.

“I just don’t think it’d be accurate enough for me to actually get in my car and go get tested. I’m careful so I don’t think I’d be alerted anyway,” said Californian Jim Bunch.

Ideally, the app would sway more people to isolate and get tested, when necessary.

Health officials say every preventative measure helps especially now due to the swell of cases that have Intensive Care Units stretched to the limit.

“When I looked at the dashboard this morning, we were 58 intensive care unit beds in Los Angeles County where there are 7.8 million adults. That’s like one ICU bed for 135,000 adults. That’s not a great situation for us to be in right now,” said Dr. Buhr.

Officials say wider use of the app would obviously improve effectiveness.

According to research by Oxford University, just 15% uptake of an exposure notification system can cut infections by 15% and deaths by 11%.

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