(NBC News) – Many hope smartphones can be a tool to slow the spread of COVID-19, but technical roadblocks are slowing the launch of contact-tracing apps.
In May tech giants Apple and Google rolled out an exposure notification tool to Android and iPhone, making it possible for app developers to use Bluetooth to track when devices come in proximity to one another.
That would allow those devices to get a notification that they’d potentially been exposed to someone who’d tested positive for the virus and self reported.
Still, it was only one step.
“Apple and Google made the technical framework essentially so that these apps could exist, but they didn’t actually make any of the apps on their own,” notes Kaveh Waddell of Consumer Reports.
That means it’s up to states and public health agencies to build the apps, and up to consumers to voluntarily participate.
States including Alabama and Morth Dakota were among the first to announce development plans for contact-tracing apps, but still aren’t close to launching.
They’ve cited a number of challenges, including:
- user participation
- access to testing
- tracking transmissions across state lines
- the reliability of bluetooth signals
“The problem is that the middle of the pandemic is not a time to be figuring out fundamentally new ways of doing public health,” says Dr. Farzad Mostashari, the former National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.
Alabama and North Dakota say it will be three or four more weeks at minimum until the apps will be ready for launch.
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