Louisiana launches COVID-19 Defense app in response to third surge

State News

BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Louisiana Department of Health has launched a new smartphone app that lets users know when they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The COVID Defense app was introduced during Gov. John Bel Edwards’ latest COVID-19 briefing Friday morning. The app described as “Louisiana’s free, easy-to-use phone app that provides residents of Louisiana the information needed to fight COVID-19, without compromising their privacy.”

“Louisianans can now receive notifications informing them if there is a risk they were exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus. Use of the technology is completely voluntary, private, and secure. COVID Defense does not collect the location of a phone or individual to detect exposure, and it does not share a user’s identity. App users must opt in to use the tool and may opt out at any time. No personal information is required to use the app,” the LDH said in a statement released following the briefing.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen staggering numbers in terms of deaths and cases and those numbers should give us pause. Last week we also reported our first case of the more contagious UK variant of COVID,” said Governor Edwards. “Until the majority of the general public has received the COVID vaccine, we cannot let up and will need to lean on every other tool available to us. COVID Defense adds another tool to our toolkit to slow the spread of this dangerous virus.”

COVID Defense can be downloaded in the iPhone App Store or Android Google Play Store.

When COVID Defense is voluntarily activated, the LDH says the tool uses Bluetooth technology to exchange random tokens between phones without revealing the user’s identity or location. To help ensure these random tokens can’t be used to identify you or your location, they change every 10-20 minutes.

“On a daily basis, an individual’s mobile phone will download a list of all the anonymous tokens associated with positive COVID-19 cases and checks them against the list of anonymous tokens it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there’s a match, the app will notify you with further instructions on how to keep you and the people around you safe.”

The Louisiana Department of Health reported 1,937 new cases and 41 more deaths from COVID-19 Friday, bringing the total cases statewide to 380,255 and deaths to 8,483. Of the new cases reported since Wednesday, the LDH says 1,748 are confirmed and 189 are probable.

“We are starting to see so some signs that we have plateaued on this most recent surge, but we remain in a very precarious place,” Edwards said, noting that the statewide percent positivity remains above 10-percent, as well as in all 64 parishes. And while hospitalizations have dropped below 1,800 Friday, Edwards said the healthcare system continues to be strained and noted that the number of deaths – 159 deaths over the last three days alone – is “unacceptably high.”

Both Edwards and Dr. Joe Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health also warned that the spread of new, more transmissible variants threaten to drive cases and positivy rates up even further.

“The problem is, we know more people will get COVID-19, therefore there will be more people in the hospital, more people will die than would otherwise be the case,” said Edwards.

The first case of the UK variant, SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7, was verified last week in Louisiana. Kanter said we should presume that there are many more in the state, however, and Edwards pointed to modeling that shows it could be the predominant strain in the U.S. and Louisiana by March.

It was the governor’s first briefing since announcing the extension of modified Phase 2 COVID-19 restrictions for another 28 days, citing a continued rise in cases, positivity rates, and hospitalization rates across the state. It is also his first briefing since President Joe Biden was sworn into office on Wednesday.

During last week’s briefing, Edwards noted the state would be waiting to hear from the new administration before deciding whether to stick with changes to distribution plans recommended by the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed officials. Those recommended changes included making the vaccines more widely available by not reserving the doses they have for second doses and making them available to those 65 and over as well as to those 64 and under with certain comorbidities.

No new tiers of eligibility were announced on Friday morning. Edwards said the level of weekly allocations of the vaccine have been flat for last four weeks and is expected to remain flat for the next four to five weeks. He explained that this also one of the reasons the state has not moved forward with any mass vaccination efforts.

“It would literally slow down the administration of the vaccine in our state,” Edwards said. But he said the Louisiana Department of Health is continuing to review actions taken by the new administration and actively working to enroll more pharmacies and providers to distribute the vaccine, which already number over 1,800.

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