PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Tuesday unveiled a “Crush COVID RI" mobile app that can track where people go so health officials can trace their contacts if they get the coronavirus.
“The name of the game is containing the virus," Raimondo said. "We can’t stop it. We can only hope to contain it.”
Soon after the announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island raised a couple of concerns about what it called the “potential ‘Big Brother’ aspects” of the app.
For example, the ACLU asked if the state will subject the app to an independent third-party audit to ensure it provides the promised privacy protections, and it asked what protections employees would have if employers required them to use the app.
“We recognize the urgency of stemming the pandemic, and are not opposed to technological tools that may offer public health benefits," Rhode Island ACLU executive director Steven Brown said. “We therefore applaud the governor for keeping privacy concerns front and center in the development of this app. However, deployed incorrectly, the app has the potential to interfere with public health efforts, undermine trust, and violate individuals’ rights.”
During her daily news conference, Raimondo emphasized that Rhode Islanders will be able to enable or disable the GPS tracking feature any time they want. The data will remain on their phones and be automatically deleted in 20 days. If someone gets COVID-19, health officials will ask them to share the “location diary” data, but that would be optional, she said.
Raimondo has been asking Rhode Islanders to keep a handwritten journal of everyone with whom they come in contact every day to assist in contact tracing. Now the state will offer the free app, which was developed in partnership with Infosys, an India-based technology company that has a Digital Innovation and Design Center in Providence.
The app is available for both iOS and Android, and is available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Raimondo said she asked her team to develop an app that would allow the state to track contacts in case of an outbreak, but that also “protects people’s privacy and data in an ironclad way."
While using the app is completely optional, the governor said, “I am asking you to download the app and enable the location diary feature because these systems only work insofar as everyone uses them.”
While everyone enjoys the right to “live freely,” Raimondo said, “In this virus we are all very connected. My ability to breathe freely without a mask endangers you.”
She hopes that more than 90 percent of the state will use the app. “If everyone is on it, we can identify hot spots and get everyone tested and in isolation," she said.
The app also allows people to find COVID-19 testing sites and to schedule a test. The app has information about how to get help, such as food delivery, or where health care workers fearful of infecting their families can stay for free. And the app has a survey that asks people if they have a fever or other coronavirus symptoms.
The information from the app will allow health officials to identify if there are school buildings, offices, or regions of the state with outbreaks.
Raimondo also announced that the state plans to let child care centers reopen on June 1. The state will provide 50,000 surgical masks “to help them get started, to keep them safe and kids safe and give parents a sense of peace and comfort,” she said.
The announcements came as the state Department of Health reported that another 26 Rhode Islanders have died from the coronavirus, and 134 more people have tested positive for the virus.
That marks the most fatalities reported on a single day in Rhode Island. The previous high had been 23 deaths on May 2.
However, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state health director, explained that about half of the deaths were from previous days, but were reported today because of delays in getting laboratory results.
The state death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak now stands at 532, and the number of positive tests now totals 12,951.
Rhode Island has 247 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 59 people in intensive care units, and 44 people on ventilators, while 1,023 people have been discharged from the hospital, according to the Department of Health.
“It’s a good news story,” Raimondo said of the latest health data. “We are starting to see a decline in number of cases.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com