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Lanai residents to test COVID-19 app

Lanai residents will be the first in the state to participate in a pilot project involving a smartphone application that notifies people that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

The state Department of Health said Tuesday afternoon that Lanai residents will be participating in the AlohaSafe Application Pilot Project launch, which is expected to debut today.

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

AlohaSafe is the only official COVID-19 exposure notification app in the state and is part of the national Google Apple Emergency Notification protocol, said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

AlohaSafe is a public/private partnership created in collaboration with the Health Department to roll out a series of digital tools to enhance health and safety. DOH and its partners are working with the Lanai community and Pulama Lana’i, which owns most of the island and oversees the daily operations for owner, billionaire and tech mogul Larry Ellison.

Lanai has been under a stay-at-home order since Oct. 27, after it saw its COVID-19 case totals go from zero to about 100. Gov. David Ige allowed the county to ease conditions to safer at home levels, starting Thursday.

On Tuesday, Lanai’s count stayed at 106 with no new cases.

“I understand this app will serve as an early-warning system for exposure to COVID-19,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said Tuesday. “I support any and all means to curb the spread of this virus in our community. I wish the state and our Lanai community much success with the rollout of the AlohaSafe app.”

Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama, whose residency district is Lanai, said Tuesday afternoon that he was not aware of the program but supports and appreciates the efforts by everyone to help the Lanai community with contact tracing and keeping the island safe.

According to the AlohaSafe Alert website, wearealohasafe .org, the app works by:

• Downloading the app and opting in to 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.

• Having the user’s phone and phones around the user exchanging the random IDs via Bluetooth technology. The app does not need to be open for the exchanges to take place.

• Having the phone periodically checking 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 how to maintain safety for the individual notified and those around him or her.

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

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

As Lanai works on its launch, Okubo said that other islands, communities and organizations may be next to employ the app. DOH continues to work with AlohaSafe on operational issues and calibration to state requirements and capacity, and the app’s effectiveness, functionality and integration with existing contact tracing processes and systems.

DOH is partnering on the project with Hawaii Executive Collaborative, Every1ne Hawaii and aio Digital. This project “represents our shared belief that stopping community spread and saving lives will take everyone and all communities,” Okubo said.

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

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