Rhode Island introduced a smartphone app Tuesday that state officials say could help public health workers trace the contacts of COVID-19 patients and connect them to testing and other resources.
The Crush Covid RI app uses satellite-based GPS technology to track people’s location if they opt into that feature. Someone who then tests positive for the coronavirus can volunteer to share their 20-day location history with the state Department of Public Health.
Gov. Gina Raimondo said no personal information is accessible by the state or the private company that helped develop the app, and participation is entirely voluntary — but the more people who opt in, the better prepared the state will be for future outbreaks.
“I said to the team, ‘I need you to make something that tracks contacts and enables us to keep a lid on the virus but protects people’s privacy and data in an ironclad way.’ That’s what this is designed to do,” said the Democrat, who has downloaded the app.
The location diary information automatically deletes in 20 days.
People who are uncomfortable sharing their location diary with the state can simply read the information to the contact tracers instead, she said.
Rhode Island is at least the fourth U.S. state to roll out a location-tracking app designed to help fight the pandemic’s spread, but so far similar apps in Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota have encountered technical glitches and a general lack of interest by their residents.
Chirag Patel, the state’s IT chief, says the location feature is designed to help jog someone’s memory so they can better help trained public health workers make contact with people or locations, such as a grocery store, they might have visited.
Software company Infosys helped build the app. The GPS-based approach is different from a privacy-oriented model being introduced later this month by tech giants Apple and Google.
Patel says the state would consider later adopting that model, which uses Bluetooth wireless technology to automatically notify someone if they spent time close to someone who later tested positive for the virus.
Rhode Island is still on track to open child care centers on June 1, Raimondo said. The state will distribute 50,000 face coverings for workers at the state's 900 child care centers.
DEATH NUMBERS RISE
The state Department of Health announced 26 new coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began. But Director Nicole Alexander-Scott stressed that does not mean all of those people died in one day, as it can take several days to confirm a cause of death.
Of the 26 new deaths, 23 were in their 70s or older — including a centenarian — and 24 lived in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
The state has now reported 532 COVID-19 fatalities.
The department reported 134 new positive cases Tuesday, bring the total to almost 13,000.
There were also 247 people still hospitalized with the disease, according to the latest state figures.
A civic leader who wants to let local police ignore violations of the state's coronovirus-related restrictions withdrew his proposal, saying there was no sense in discussing a doomed measure.
Narragansett Town Council President Matthew Mannix had planned to introduce the resolution at Monday night’s meeting but said he knew three of the five councilors would vote against it.
The resolution would have allowed Narragansett law enforcement officers to “exercise their discretion and not issue fines or violations based on the restrictions imposed on places of worship, restaurants, retail establishments and other small businesses.”
Police Chief Sean Corrigan had previously said the Town Council “does not have the authority to order the police to ignore the law.”
Mannix said he was promoting personal responsibility and local control over state mandates.
Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, last week called Mannix's proposal “selfish” and “reckless.”
Johnson & Wales University is again postponing its in-person commencement ceremony.
The Providence campus had already pushed its spring graduation to Aug. 22 at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. But campus President Marie Bernardo-Sousa said in an online statement Monday that state restrictions on large gatherings will still be in effect.
The university hopes to honor 2020 graduates sometime next year, she said.
The school still plans a virtual commencement this Saturday.