The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives and economies worldwide, with many countries still struggling to contain the virus. In the United States, the pandemic led to the development of a Bluetooth system by Apple and Google to track the spread of infection and send push alerts to smartphone users who came into contact with infected individuals. However, the Association of Public Health Laboratories has announced that the majority of states have stopped using this system after the U.S. public health emergency ended on May 11.
State Decisions to End COVID Exposure Notifications
Since 2020, nearly 30 states, including California, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado, have used the Bluetooth system to track infections and send alerts to smartphone users. However, the California Department of Public Health announced that the system would shut down on the same date as the U.S. COVID-19 State of Emergency ends. Several states used the system to create apps that users could download, such as CA Notify and WA Notify. States also provided exposure notifications through a built-in feature on Apple and Google’s operating systems. However, the majority of states have stopped using the exposure notification system after the U.S. emergency declaration ended.
Benefits and Concerns
The Bluetooth system aimed to help millions of Americans trace their exposures and make decisions about isolating and testing for the virus. Moreover, researchers in Washington found that the notification tools saved an estimated 30 to 120 lives and likely prevented about 6,000 COVID-19 cases during the first four months after they launched in November 2020. Despite these benefits, some Americans have been skeptical of the COVID exposure notification tools, expressing concerns about privacy. A 2021 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office stated that the public may not trust both local governments and technology companies to handle sensitive health information.
Shifts in the Response to the Pandemic
State decisions to end COVID exposure notifications are part of a broader shift in how the country responds to the pandemic. Health departments last year loosened COVID-19 restrictions like masking and social distancing as more Americans got vaccinated and boosted against the virus. That culminated in the end of the public health emergency, which phased out much of the funding and flexibility that helped expand COVID testing, insurance coverage, and access to care during the pandemic. However, more than 1,000 Americans are still dying each week from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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