COVID-tracing app downloaded by 78,000 state residents

About 78,000 Delawareans have downloaded the COVID Alert DE app, according to information from the Delaware Division of Public Health.

The app, which has been available in the Apple app store or Google Play since mid-September, runs in the background and can send an anonymous exposure notification alert if the user is identified as a close contact of a COVID-19-positive individual in Delaware or three other states (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania).

With COVID-19 cases and percent-positive rates on the rise over the last several weeks, the app has played a supporting role in the state’s contact tracing program.

“The most important part of contact tracing is letting the person know you’ve been exposed,” said Dr. Rick Hong, the DPH’s medical director. “So whatever method it is, as quickly as possible, to notify those close contacts that they’ve been exposed, is key for effective contact tracing, to provide the recommendations that you should be quarantined to make sure you don’t spread potential infection to others.

“The app definitely complements what we’re doing right now with our overall contact tracing strategy,” Dr. Hong added.

Gov. John Carney said that just under 20% of individuals who were reached by contact tracers have been identified as participating in the app.

“Depending on how you look at it, it’s a good number or a small number,” Gov. Carney said. “We’d like it to be more than that.”

The state has been making adjustments to its contact tracing programs over the last couple of weeks to help it keep pace with the elevated levels of positive cases.

DPH Director Dr. Karryl Rattay said the state hired 31 new contact tracers two weeks ago and about 50 additional tracers last week. The DPH is also looking at technology, so it can spend less time on the phone during contact tracing, doing more outreach with texting and emails once a contact tracer has connected with a positive case.

Dr. Karryl Rattay

“Through all those approaches, we think we’re going to be able to catch up pretty quickly,” Dr. Rattay said. “But it’s definitely put some strain on the system.”

She added that the DPH is concentrating more on its positive cases before moving on to close contacts. Because of this, as of last week, close contacts would see about a delay of seven to 10 days before being reached, according to Dr. Rattay.

For the week of Nov. 22-28, Delaware contact tracers interviewed a total of 1,546 positive cases. Of those interviewed cases, 362 (23%) reported participating in an event or visiting a venue in the two weeks prior to the onset of their symptoms. If there were no symptoms present, tracers go by the date of their positive test.

The week prior, Nov. 15-21, 1,666 positive cases were reached by contact tracers. Again, 23% (370), reported participating in an event or visiting a venue in the two weeks prior to the onset of their symptoms or the date of their positive test.

Delaware is averaging an all-time high of 531.5 new positive cases per day in its seven-day rolling average, using data as of Tuesday at 6 p.m.

“I think every state is feeling they’re in the same position,” Dr. Rattay said. “We’re all seeing increased cases, so it’s put a lot of strain on our case investigation and contact tracing system. For us, the highest priority is having conversations with our cases first. We want to make sure that they’re isolated and that they think about who their contacts are and let us know. We continue to prioritize those interviews with our cases, and we have been able to keep up with those conversations.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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