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Hana and Lanai are part of smartphone app pilot project

App notifies people who may have been exposed to COVID-19

Hana and Lanai are the first communities in the state to try out a pilot program application that notifies people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. The AlohaSafe Alert smartphone application has already been downloaded more than 3,000 times since it launched earlier this month. The Maui News / TERRIE ELIKER photo

Hana and Lanai are the first communities in the state to try out a pilot program application that notifies people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

The AlohaSafe Alert smartphone application has already been downloaded more than 3,000 times since it launched earlier this month, according to Lynelle Marble, executive director of Hawai’i Executive Collaborative, a community partner helping to drive adoption of AlohaSafe in the state.

The app is an alert tool that may help reduce the time it takes to notify a person of a potential exposure to COVID-19.

Marble said that due to the level of privacy with the Google/Apple Exposure Notification or GAEN technology being used, the organization is not able to identify the location of the downloads. However, she said that most of the 3,000-plus downloads were after a community meeting with Lanai residents earlier this month.

“Since the number of downloads actually exceeds the population numbers on Lanai, it’s clear that the app has garnered considerable interest, most likely from word of mouth and Maui residents who joined the initial informational meetings,” Marble said.

The AlohaSafe program is a public-private partnership created in collaboration with the state Health Department to roll out a series of digital tools to enhance health and safety. DOH and its partners are working with Pulama Lana’i, which owns most of the island and oversees the daily options for billionaire owner and tech mogul Larry Ellison. It is also working with Mayor Michael Victorino’s office and Maui legislators Sen. J. Kalani English and Rep. Lynn DeCoite on the project. Both legislators’ districts include Lanai and Hana.

Pulama Lana’i said in a statement that it agreed to partner with the project and to help make information about the app available to Lanai residents.

“Contact tracing apps like AlohaSafe have the potential to help manage the spread of COVID-19 and we look forward to seeing the results of the pilot,” Pulama Lana’i said.

Lanai saw cases climb from zero to 106 in October but has not seen a new case in nearly two weeks. A Safer-at-Home order is in place until Monday.

Marble said they have partnered with Pulama Lana’i to hold a focus group and have provided flyers and posters that the company has distributed communitywide.

She added that through virtual community meetings featuring English and DeCoite with Lanai and Hana residents, information on the app was shared and questions were answered.

According to the AlohaSafe Alert website, wearealohasafe.org, users must download the app and opt into the notification system. A random ID will be generated for the device, which will change every 10 to 20 minutes to protect identity and location.

The user’s phone and nearby devices exchange the random IDs via Bluetooth technology. The app does not need to be open for the exchanges to take place.

The phone periodically checks all the random IDs associated with positive COVID-19 cases against its own list. If there is a match, the user will receive a COVID-19 exposure notification, with further instructions from the Health Department on safety for both the individual and their close contacts.

The person’s identity is not shared with other users, Google or Apple, AlohaSafe said. And, only the state Health Department can operate the system.

Brandon Kurisu, president of aio Digital and developer of AlohaSafe Alert, said that to prevent false notifications, all diagnoses must be confirmed by the Department of Health.

“So an infected app user will be contacted by DOH and will be given a code that they input into the app. Once that code is inputted, the system then sends alerts to others who have been within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes of the infected person,” he explained.

As of October, a dozen states have released exposure notification apps, and several others are in the process of developing one, according to the DOH. Countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom have used the technology for contact tracing.

Marble said that in addition to monitoring downloads of the app, officials are conducting surveys to understand use and gain feedback on what could be improved.

“With the early success we’ve seen on Lanai, it would make sense to expand to Maui next,” Marble said. “We are looking to release the app more widely once we’ve coordinated with the Department of Health on how to support the app for a larger user base.”

She added that the pilot project is scheduled to run through early to mid-December, which is around the time the app could roll out statewide.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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