LIHU‘E — The Hawai‘i State Department of Health in partnership with aio Digital and the Hawai‘i Executive Collaborative have launched AlohaSafe Alert, an exposure notification app to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Masks, distance, and vaccines are all valuable tools against COVID-19,” DOH Director Dr. Libby Char said. “AlohaSafe Alert app is another important tool in the fight against COVID-19. This innovative app was developed for the community, by the community, and it has the potential to greatly increase the speed of the exposure notification process, allowing anyone who receives an alert to quickly self-quarantine and gets tested if needed.”
Hawai’i joins 17 other states and 19 countries in authorizing the Google/Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) system that uses Bluetooth technology to measure the closeness and duration of signals between enrolled smartphones.
AlohaSafe Alert will anonymously and privately send notifications within 48 hours if an app user comes into close contact — within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes — with an individual who tested positive for the virus in the past 14 days.
The AlohaSafe Alert was first piloted on Lana‘i and in Hana on Nov. 17 and expanded to Maui County on Dec. 16. The app has been downloaded more than 14,000 times, according to the state.
“When Lana‘i experienced a surge in COVID cases, AlohaSafe Alert was critical in helping us to control the spread,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said. “Maui County strongly believes these types of technological advances can help us get the upper hand in the fight against COVID-19.”
Preliminary results and learnings from other states and countries show that, coupled with other measures, if only 15% of the population were to use AlohaSafe Alert, COVID-19 infections could be reduced by 8% and deaths by 6%.
“The effectiveness of AlohaSafe Alert is dependent on our residents downloading the app and we urge our community to seize this opportunity to further protect each other,” Representative Linda Ichiyama, chair of the House Committee on Pandemic and Disaster Preparedness said. “The legislature sees this app as a critical tool our state can deploy to proactively help us control the spread of COVID-19.”
Gov. David Ige encouraged everyone to get it on their phone.
“AlohaSafe Alert will help to empower our residents to protect themselves, their families, and their community,” Ige said. “We appreciate the partnership formed between DOH and the private sector to develop this useful tool and help Hawaii remain one of the states with the lowest infection rates in the country. I strongly urge everyone to download this free app so they can receive notifications as quickly as possible in the event of an exposure.”
The state is now working with Kaua‘i to reach the island’s residents as best as they can.
“There may be other notification apps, but AlohaSafe Alert is the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s official exposure notification,” Mayor Derek Kawakami said. “Please consider downloading this app to add another layer of safety to help protect your loved ones and our community.”
Kaua‘i District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman welcomes the app for Kaua‘i’s community.
“AlohaSafe is an additional tool to support effective and timely case investigation and contact tracing,” Berreman said. “It is a great example of public/private collaboration. Participation is entirely voluntary and the app is free to download.
“The greater the participation, the greater the impact of this tool is likely to be. DOH is incorporating AlohaSafe into our operations statewide, including on Kaua’i,” Berreman added.
Lynelle Marble, executive director of HEC, said so far the app project was funded by private donors that contributed over $115,000 dollars since last year, and if more individuals use it, it can help the state decrease COVID-19 outcomes.
Some residents may be concerned and wonder if it will be utilized by a larger community, but Marble explains how they will address that issue and reach broader participation.
“We will have a paid media campaign and in addition, we are doing a lot of community one on one engagements-community meetings, town hall conversations and we are beginning to work with the mayors while sharing a tool kit with businesses and passing out flyers and posters,” Marble said.
Nicole Velasco, a volunteer with AlohaSafe echoed Marble and the program’s future campaigning efforts.
“It really is a credit to the community for asking for this app-our stakeholders, and our elected officials for inviting us into their communities,” Velasco said. “Leveraging social media to broadly reach our communities as best as we can and of course by coconut wireless and do that until we can reach as much as possible.”
The app is available on Google Play or Apple App Store. For more information visit alohasafealert.org.
Other key features of AlohaSafe Alert include:
• Participants may opt in/out at any time;
• The app allows smartphones to interact and exchange anonymous codes that are frequently changed, but it does not keep track of any geo-location or GPS data;
• Only DOH authorities will have access to data, and all data will be kept anonymous;
• Should you test positive for COVID-19, your identity is kept private from anyone who receives an alert, and their identities are kept private from you;
• AlohaSafe Alert is interoperable with other similar official notification apps in other states and those apps can also be used by visitors to Hawai’i.