ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and other officials Monday announced the rollout of a new, voluntary Smartphone app that will allow people who test positive for COVID-19 to anonymously alert others they may have been close to while infectious.

Officials discussed the free app, called COVIDaware MN, during a live video briefing.

“When someone tests positive, they have the choice of using the app to warn others,” said Minnesota IT Services Commissioner Tarek Tomes. “People who have been in close contact within the infectious period will then receive a notification that they may have had a potential exposure.”

Random codes are assigned to each phone's app by health authorities. When the app is turned on, phones will exchange codes if within six feet of one another for at least 15 minutes. The app does not ask users for their names or other personal information.

“People that have been in close contact within the infectious period will then receive a notification that they may have had a potential exposure," Tomes said. "When you receive this notification, at no point does it tell you who triggered the notification. It doesn’t tell you where the exposure potentially occurred. And it actually doesn’t tell you the precise time of the exposure – it just gives you a broad time range.”

People who test positive for COVID-19 are required to enter a verification code they receive from health officials before they can send a warning notification to other users. The warnings also share health recommendations with people who may have been exposed to the virus.

“The most dangerous part of this disease is the asymptomatic spread – especially among very social and mobile 18 to 35 year-olds,” Governor Tim Walz said. “It’s not out of malice. It’s not out of not caring. It’s simply in many cases out of ignorance of not knowing that you’ve been exposed or have it.”

The rollout of COVIDaware MN arrives at a time when the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths around the state continues to grow at an alarming rate. Health Department Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann says residents will enhance the work of public health officials by downloading and using the app.

“It will supplement our contact tracing efforts,” Ehresmann said. “Typically, we have to rely on a person remembering who they may have been in contact with, and the places that they visited while they were infectious. And oftentimes that’s difficult and sometimes people can’t remember or they don’t know the people who have been in close proximity to them.”

To learn more, visit the COVIDaware MN website.

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