Tech NewsApple addresses slow uptake of COVID-19 exposure notification apps

DarylDecember 29, 2021

Earlier this week, one of the executives responsible for Apple’s COVID-19 exposure notification technology took to Twitter to express frustration with the adoption of the technology in the United States. Now, a new report from the Washington Post goes more in-depth on how much of the United States still isn’t using exposure notification apps, even as the omicron variant pushes case numbers to all-time highs, and Apple has responded.

Myoung Cha worked as Apple’s head of health strategic initiatives when Apple/Google’s exposure notification API was created, but he’s now moved on to the health-care start-up Carbon Health. Following his thread on Twitter earlier this week, Cha talked more about the development of the COVID-19 exposure notification technology.

Cha said that the pace at which Google and Apple developed the exposure notification framework was a “land speed record for software development.” Cha and other representatives from Apple and Google worked closely with federal and state governments to roll out the technology, but the decentralized approach to health care in the United States proved to be too big of a challenge to overcome.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Cha also criticized the Biden administration’s approach to addressing the pandemic:

“The Biden administration, when they came into power, put almost all their chips into the vaccines as their silver bullet to beat the virus,” Cha said. “I think that was strategically the biggest mistake.”

But today’s report sums up the situation, which is two-fold: some states have refused to adopt exposure notification technology altogether, while reporting is inadequate in other states:

More than 20 states don’t use it at all, including large states like Florida and Texas that have reported millions of cases and tens of thousands of deaths. Even in states where millions have activated the notifications, only a fraction of people who test positive for the virus report it to the Apple and Google system. California’s system, for example, has been activated on more than 15 million devices, but only about 3 percent of the nearly 3.9 million cases reported since launch were logged in the system.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for Apple and Google defended the system in a joint statement:

“We built the Exposure Notifications System to help public health authorities during this historic pandemic in a privacy-preserving way. We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have used — that has helped protect public health,” Google spokesperson Nicolas Lopez and Apple spokesperson Semonti Stephens said in a joint statement.

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