The City of Santa Fe first began encouraging Santa Feans to download and use an the anonymous COVID-19 contact tracing app NOVID back in September by placing signs in English and Spanish promoting the app around town.
Earlier this month, Economic Development Director Rich Brown told SFR the city had recently signed a contract with NOVID, which will now allow to keep a dashboard and know how many residents are using it.
The city announced that contract today for the NOVID app, developed by Carnegie Mellon University mathematician Po-Shen Loh, and is promoting the app as part of its "Santa Fe Promise 2.0" campaign against COVID-19.
"We are considering a myriad of approaches to COVID prevention and to slow the spread," Rich Brown, director of Community and Economic Development said in a statement. "If we can leverage mobile technology to better combat this health and economic crisis, we should make it available to all of our residents."
NOVID is free and anonymous, using no personal information or GPS data. According to the company, it uses a combination of ultrasound, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to build an anonymous network allowing users to visualize the spread of COVID-19 in their personal networks.
In other words, this isn't an app that will tell you if someone in the same grocery store has or has had COVID-19. Rather, it lets you know about the actual contacts in your life that may have exposed you to infection.
"At its core, every other app increases the chance that you get quarantined and decreases the chance that everybody else gets COVID, but doesn't do anything to the chance that you get COVID," Loh tells SFR. "We give you a personal radar to see if the disease is striking closer, so if you see it coming closer to you, you can actually protect yourself by wearing a better mask or keeping a greater distance. So if you use NOVID, you decrease the chance that you get quarantined and you also will decrease the chance that you get infected."
Loh says this strategy represents a paradigm shift for the app since its inception. "There is no app that is useful for the grocery store situation," he tells SFR. "It's a mistake to be primarily worried about the grocery store."
Instead, he says each user just needs to "find two people they spend time with and convince them to join the app, and each of them find two people" and so on and so forth. "The principle of this is we're trying to make a viral app…we want the viral app's replication rate to be better than COVID."
If Santa Fe users sign up using the "SANTAFE" code in the settings page, the city will "be able to see things like how interconnected people are," although their personal identifying information—including specific locations—will remain anonymous. By building their networks, users will then learn if someone within their group or connected to their group has tested positive.
The app developers say they also encourage users to provide any feedback about the app, including bugs and ideas for additional features. "The idea of being able to report that you were exposed to someone who was positive, that came from a lot of feedback," Dean Dijour, the lead designer, says.
With the contract signed with the city, the NOVID team says they will now be involved in helping promote the app, which means explaining to community leaders and others how it works.
"We actually take this much more seriously than saying, 'here's an app, good luck,' Loh says. "It's much more of, how can we actually work with you to try to help everybody just genuinely understand what the tool does…We have discovered as soon as everyone genuinely understands what this does, you actually want to use it."