NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Many New Mexicans may have gotten an alert on their phone Tuesday from the state asking everyone to sign up for NM Notify, an app aimed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The technology lets people know if they’d been exposed to COVID-19, which is made by Google and Apple.
The companies claim every two downloads can prevent one COVID-19 infection. “This tool is another tool in the toolbox that we consider to be as strong as social distancing, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated,” said Jim Walton, a spokesperson with the New Mexico Department of Health. “When you start to do the math on that, that really puts up a wall against the virus. And this is another opportunity for us to stop the spread.”
On iPhones, people must go to their settings to enable ‘exposure notifications’ and opt-in. On Androids, the “NM Notify” app must be downloaded from the app store. Here’s how it works: When someone opts in, a random code is generated for that phone, and it changes every few minutes. When that phone is near another phone that has the app downloaded, the two phones use Bluetooth to exchange the random codes.
If someone tests positive for COVID-19, they report it to the app, which then notifies phones it had been in contact over the last 14 days of virus exposure. The person exposed is then asked to isolate and get tested. Walton said the app is geared to privacy protection.
“Once we got an idea of how effective it is in protecting people’s privacy is really the turning point in saying we should do this. It does not collect any data at all. It’s completely anonymous. We asked them at first why don’t just use GPS and they said because GPS isn’t private,” Walton said.
The technology has been available since May 2020 with many states and countries already using it. Walton said investigating the privacy concerns is one reason why New Mexico is just starting to use it now.
“That privacy issue was probably the biggest hurdle for us. And we looked at several similar apps. One thing that sold us was the fact that Apple and Google are big names and they certainly are going to do their homework and make sure this is as private as they say it is,” Walton said. “I’d say that’s probably the reason why is just we wanted to I guess prove to ourselves the efficacy of this. The efficiency of it. And watch it. We wanted to see how well it did elsewhere before we brought it to the people of New Mexico.”
Walton said the state hopes to have at least 20% of people download and use the app.
“It’s completely anonymous. It’s private. It’s free. This app isn’t costing the taxpayers anything at all. This is free from Google and Apple…We’d love for you to jump on board with this because the more people use this, the more efficient it will become,” Walton said.