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Utah Launches "Healthy Together" App To Help Track Spread Of COVID-19

Photo of the how the healthy together app appears on an iphone
Ross Terrell
A screenshot of the Utah "Healthy Together" app. It was unveiled Wednesday as a way to help the state track the spread of the COVID-19.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled the “Healthy Together” app Wednesday to help the state track the spread of COVID-19. People who decide to download it can fill out a questionnaire about their symptoms and whether they’ve been in contact with anyone who had COVID-19.

If a person does have some symptoms, they can then use the app to find a testing location. But health officials said the most important thing about “Healthy Together” is that it makes it easier for them to contact trace — which is following up with people with whom a COVID-19 patient may have come in contact. 

Right now, health officials are relying on a person remembering where they may have been and with whom they might have been in close contact. But with the app, people can share their location with the Utah Department of Health. Then, health officials will be able to track where patients have been using bluetooth and GPS.

Other people who have the app would get a notification letting them know they may have been exposed to the virus. But usage of it is confined to Utah. If a person downloads the app and enters another state, they won’t receive a notification even if they did come into contact with someone in Utah who had the virus. 

Downloading the app is voluntary and how much information a person enters is up to them. Health officials said the app was designed to give people the most control over their data as possible. 

James Czerniawski, with Libertas Institute of Utah, said that’s a big reason why this app doesn’t raise any red flags for him.

“First and foremost, it’s not mandatory, it is elective,” Czerniawski said. “The company has gone through an extreme number of precautions to make sure they put a lot of control in your hands if you want to delete your data at any time.”

He said the information that’s being shared with the state is also clearly defined. And as long as it stays voluntary, it should still be legal. 

“If you saw any government trying to crack down in a more forceful manner to mandate something like this, you would see more constitutional questions,” Czerniawski said.

But for now, he said if people want to give this access to the government and health officials for the greater good, that’s their choice.

People can delete their data at any time and toggle their location sharing settings. The system will also automatically delete information from the database after 30 days. Any information in the app is only shared with the health department. 

“Healthy Utah” has cost the state $1.75 million so far. But the state’s contract with the app developer allows for another million dollars to be spent to help with further development, since this is just the beta version. Officials said they also have no plans to use it beyond the coronavirus pandemic. 

Health officials said the app could be around until the fall, when they predict a second wave of COVID-19 could hit again.

Ross Terrell is the managing editor at KUER.
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