New iPhone setting will let Minnesotans know if they've been exposed to COVID-19

New iPhone setting will let Minnesotans know if they've been exposed to COVID-19 Photo: COVIDaware MN.

KSTP
Created: January 10, 2021 04:28 PM

State officials say some iPhone users will have access to a new feature for tracking coronavirus exposure.

In a news release Sunday, Minnesota IT Services announced that starting Monday, iPhone users will receive a notification about turning on COVID-19 exposure notifications in their settings without having to download the COVIDaware MN app, which was introduced back in November.

The notification setting is available on iPhones using iOS versions 12.5 or 13.7 and higher.

"Knowing when you've been exposed to COVID-19 is a critical piece of curbing the spread of this virus, and COVIDaware MN gives Minnesotans a powerful and anonymous tool to know when you've been exposed," Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. "The new notification on iPhones will give Minnesotans greater access to this technology, so we can all play our part to slow the spread of COVID-19."

The exposure notification works by generating a random key for a person's phone that is changed every 10 to 20 minutes. The user's phone pings other phones nearby using Bluetooth technology to anonymously exchange these data signatures, the release stated.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will receive a code to enter into their phone, and anyone who has been within 6 feet of that person for 15 or more minutes over 24 hours in the past 14 days will receive an exposure notification, according to MNIT.

"The iPhone setting, just like the COVIDaware MN app, is entirely opt-in and protects the privacy of Minnesotans," IT Commissioner Tarek Tomes said in a statement. "It does not track your location, does not collect your personal information, and will never share your identity with other users, Google, Apple, or the State of Minnesota."

In December, Tomes told KSTP not enough Minnesotans had downloaded the COVIDaware MN app for the notification system to reach its potential. 

As of a month ago, roughly 300,000 Minnesotans had downloaded the app, accounting for 7% of the state's 4.4 million mobile phone users. Tomes said that mark needs to get in the 10-15% range for it to start maximizing its effectiveness.

Click here to learn how to download the COVIDaware MN app.


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