Santa Fe Implements Smartphone App For COVID-19 Tracking By Residents

The City of Santa Fe, NM is partnering with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to implement a smartphone app that would let residents track when COVID-19 is impacting their social circle.

The program – called NOVID – is a pandemic response application that provides early warning before exposure to COVID-19 – unlike other “contact tracing apps” which notify people after exposure and ask them to quarantine. It uses Bluetooth, WiFi, and ultrasound to connect with other, nearby phones which have the app installed in order 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. The app is free and uses no personal information or GPS data.

“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 Mellon 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.”

NOVID is working with the city to get more people in Santa Fe to download the app, using pamphlets, social media, and yard signs. The contract with NOVID is costing the city $60,000 US

“I think we’re the first city to really try to put it out front and center as a radar detecting system for COVID,” Mayor Alan Webber said. “Until vaccinations become much more pervasive, this is a tool that really adds to Santa Fe’s ability to keep people safe.”

NOVID is part of Santa Fe’s services and resources being provided to its residents as part of the ‘Santa Fe Promise 2.0’ campaign.

“We are considering a myriad of approaches to COVID prevention and to slow the spread. If we can leverage mobile technology to better combat this health and economic crisis, we should make it available to all of our residents,” said Rich Brown, Director of Community and Economic Development.