Santa Fe partners with app warning users before COVID-19 exposure

Coronavirus New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The City of Santa Fe has partnered with the creators of a smartphone app, called NOVID, that serves as a “pandemic radar” and detects the risk of COVID-19 in real-time. Unlike contact-tracing apps which let users know they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 after the fact, NOVID serves as an early warning to users of possible COVID-19 exposure.

“We’re trying to think of as many different and creative ways that we can do outreach for stopping the spread. This is one that really, particularly enables us with technology,” Liz Camacho, Economic Development and Communication Administrator for the City of Santa Fe said.

“We’re excited the first vaccinations have arrived in Santa Fe, but until those are widely available, we need to continue to fight the spread of the virus by wearing masks, keeping our physical distancing, and using good hygiene. Now, we also have the NOVID app that acts as an early warning system and a radar tool. I hope everyone in Santa Fe signs up for NOVID. It’s free, anonymous, and helpful,” said Mayor Alan Webber in a news release.

The app serves as a type of radar for possible COVID-19 exposure. It uses Bluetooth, WiFi, and ultrasound to connect with other, nearby phones which have the app installed to gauge the risk of exposure. Users self-report a positive test and the app will alert users when someone nearby or in their network is positive for COVID-19.

“All that happens is that the phones talk to other phones which are nearby each other and find out that these two apps were near each other,” said Po-Shen Loh, founder of NOVID and math professor at Carnegie Melon University. “Whenever there’s any information about somebody who might have gotten COVID, who says so into their app voluntarily, that suddenly lets everyone in the grapevine know, COVID is striking closer and closer.”

Loh compares using the app to using headlights while driving in the dark. “Because as soon as people realize what your headlights are for, they help you drive, and then you can get where you want to get. That’s exactly what this is about. This is not an app that’s quarantining people. This is an app so you see where you’re driving,” Loh said.

He calls this app a modern way to slow the spread of a virus that spreads from person-to-person. “The point of it for you, the individual, is that you suddenly can use this information to know that at certain times, it’s a great time to be extra careful. And by being extra careful, you might just save yourself from getting infected,” he said.

The app does not use GPS or even ask a user’s name. “We actually do believe there shouldn’t be a way where an app would mysteriously pull information from a person. That’s not how we operate,” Loh said.

So far, almost 230 people in Santa Fe are using the free-app. While Loh said the more users the better, he said even having a couple of people, a person spends a lot of time with download and use the app can help. Santa Fe is the first city in the U.S. to partner with the app but NOVID hopes to expand to more cities across New Mexico and the country.

Santa Fe has been experimenting with NOVID for a couple of months but only recently formalized a partnership with the company. NOVID is helping the city with outreach to get more people in Santa Fe to download the app. The outreach includes pamphlets, social media, and yard signs. The contract with NOVID is costing the city $60,000. Find out more about the app and download it at novid.org.

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