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Google and Apple working to help track coronavirus spread with voluntary contact tracing apps

To participate in contact tracing with your phone, you have to manually download an app and agree to the terms and conditions.

COMAL COUNTY, Texas — Exposure is a big factor when deciding to get tested for coronavirus.

Health departments across the country are already conducting their own contact tracing investigations.

Now smartphone apps are starting to offer notifications that let users know if they have been around someone with the virus.

Whether you are all for contact tracing or want to be left alone, just know the choice is yours.

To participate in contact tracing with your phone, you have to manually download an app and agree to participate.

Contact tracing is a practice commonly used by health experts to find and follow up with people who may have been exposed to viruses. The concept is being used during the coronavirus pandemic as well. It allows people to decide if they should get tested, if they may need to quarantine and provides resources for basic necessities if in isolation.

“We’re picking up those contacts already before they’re actually going into the environment or in the community or shopping; before even transmitting this disease to anybody else,” said Dr. Anil Mangla, an Epidemiologist for Comal County. He leads local contact tracing investigations and briefed County Commissioners at their last meeting. 

Smartphone apps that offer exposure notifications are starting to hit the market. A recent update from Apple has some people questioning privacy.

“Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design,” read part of a statement on Apple’s website.

iPhone users can go to settings, privacy, then health to see the new exposure logging and notification option. This setting defaults to “off” and only works if the user also downloads a contact tracing app. Apple says developers have to include consent in their app as well, where users accept terms.

“Users must explicitly authorize an app to participate in exposure notification,” read details on an Apple page for app developers.

Meanwhile, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) says the current contact tracing conducted by health departments and others is also a voluntary process. Generally, epidemiologists call people who may have been in contact with a coronavirus patient. DSHS says the government cannot require you to participate in contact tracing, you can refuse to take a coronavirus test and the government will not monitor your movements.

CLICK: DSHS Frequently Asked Questions

The state says the benefit of contact tracing is it helps people make crucial decisions about their health.

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