NCDHHS launches app to supplement contact tracing

CHECK YOUR NOTIFICATIONS: SlowCOVIDNC is now available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store to help track potential exposures to COVID-19. Screen capture of SlowCOVIDNC

Think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19? There’s an app for that. 

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has launched  SlowCOVIDNC, explained Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, at a Sept. 22 press conference. The free app uses Bluetooth technology to let users know if they’ve been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, speeding up notifications of potential exposure.

NCDHHS owns the app and runs its information collection, according to the SlowCOVIDNC website. The app does not use GPS or track the user’s location, Cohen emphasized, nor does it collect or store any personal information. Instead, it relies on anonymous short-range communication between devices running the software. 

The program is completely voluntary, said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe’s public health director, at a Sept. 24 press conference. Users found to be in contact with another user who tested positive will be provided with materials on nearby testing locations and directions for quarantining. 

Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s medical director, used a hypothetical college student attending an off-campus party to drive home the app’s purpose: If one person at the party tested positive, but all attendees were using the app, everyone at the event would be notified, regardless if they were identified as close contacts by contact tracers. 

No data collected from the app is provided to local health departments, Saunders noted. Instead, she hoped individuals who receive a notification would get tested, and if positive, assist with traditional contact tracing. 

“This is truly meant for strangers who you may be in the same space with, but know nothing else about them,” she said. 

Cooper announces $40 million small business relief program

Small businesses in sectors unable to open under current COVID-19 restrictions may be eligible for some much-needed state aid, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Sept. 22. A $40 million relief program, administered through the N.C. Department of Commerce, will soon begin accepting applications to help businesses with up to four months of mortgage, rent and utility expenses. 

To qualify, businesses must prove they were closed between April and July, that they expect to reopen after the COVID-19 crisis has passed and that their expenses have not been reimbursed by any other federal source. The program is open to bars, dance halls, indoor fitness centers, movie theaters, banquet halls, bowling alleys and museums. 

Cooper also announced large outdoor event venues will be allowed to open at 7% capacity beginning Friday, Oct. 2. The announcement applies to venues that can seat over 10,000 people, meaning the new capacity would be at least 700. All social distancing and face covering requirements will continue to apply within these facilities. 

Buncombe officials are unaware of any facilities in the county that meet the large outdoor venue specifications. An announcement regarding Phase 3, which is set to expire Oct. 2, is expected early next week.

In other news

  • Individuals and families on the NC Innovations Waiver program can now use their hours during remote learning, NCDHHS announced Sept. 23. Other services are still accessible outside of school or virtual learning hours. Xpress previously reported on the challenges students with disabilities were experiencing with the program.  
  • Buncombe County DHHS officials are warning residents about a text messaging scam targeting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Food Nutrition Services recipients. Do not share any personal information, including banking information or social security numbers; questions about a message’s legitimacy should be referred to BCDHHS at 828-250-5500. 
  • Asheville City Council will hold a work session to discuss hotel development requirements on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Community members can listen live on the city’s Public Engagement Hub; no public comment will not be taken. 
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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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One thought on “NCDHHS launches app to supplement contact tracing

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    How EVIL is Roy Cooper ? on a 1 – 10 scale ? Explain if you are smart enough.

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