Utah launches an app to track people — and help trace their contacts if they get COVID-19

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Utah has contracted with mobile app developer Twenty to launch Healthy Together, which will track residents’ movements and, if they become ill, help public health workers trace where they crossed paths with other users.

“Once you have this app, it tracks where you go,” Gov. Gary Herbert said. “If someone has COVID-19, it can go back and see who you’ve bumped into.”

The state has a $1.75 million contract with Twenty, plus another $1 million to further develop the app, said the governor’s spokesman, Paul Edwards. Twenty, which has offices in San Francisco, New York and Utah, launched the beta version Wednesday.

As explained on healthytogetherutah.com, the app uses Bluetooth and location tracing services to record when its users are in close proximity. When a user begins to feel ill, he or she can enter symptoms on the app, which provides directions for testing.

Once a health department becomes aware of a positive test result, the site explains, a “public health official notifies [the infected person and users who were nearby] what they should do next.”

State epidemiologist Angela Dunn further explained the process at a Wednesday news conference.

“So if you choose to share your data with our contact tracers" by using the app, she said, “they’ll be able to know about the places that you’ve been while you were infectious, and it’ll also provide our contact tracers with a snapshot of other app users who you had significant contact with and potentially exposed with COVID-19 as well.”

That will allow contact tracers to follow up directly with those people and provide them information about how to protect themselves and others, she said.

Data collected by the app will be shared with public health workers, she said, but it will not be shared with other app users. “The success of this app is tied directly to your trust in us and our ability to safeguard your information,” she said.

The Utah Department of Health reported Wednesday that it has confirmed another 149 cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 3,445. Eleven more people have been hospitalized, for a total of 288 people since the outbreak began.

Two more Utahns have died from COVID-19, the state also reported, raising the state’s death toll to 34. One, a Salt Lake County resident, had been infected during a stay at a long-term care facility. The other, a Utah County resident, had been hospitalized, Dunn said; both patients were over age 85, she said.

Herbert said downloading and using the Healthy Together app “will always be voluntary." Users can delete their data at any time, and location data will be automatically deleted in 30 days, as will data about symptoms, he said.

“For some, we can never get over that hurdle, that concern of Big Brother watching their every movement,” Herbert said. “We’re trying to give every indication that you’re in control of your data.”

He added: “We’ll work to make it open and transparent."

The app’s survey asks the same coronavirus-related questions as the Silicon Slopes’ TestUtah website. Dunn said data from both flows to the state health department, which can identify and consolidate any duplicate entries.

Jared Allgood, chief strategy officer and one of four co-founders of Twenty, also emphasized the information gathered by the Healthy Together app will only be used for public health.

“We believe a tool that supports residents’ public health and state officials in concert is critical to safely reopening our communities and our economy,” he said.

Rather than a Bluetooth-only system with automated alerts, the Heathy Together app allows residents to choose whether to opt in, he noted. He invited Utahns to read its “clear” privacy policy, and noted location and Bluetooth connection data will be deleted after 30 days. Symptom data will be de-identified at that point, he added, and users can choose to delete data themselves at any time.

Twenty officially launched its social location-sharing app, also called Twenty, in March 2019. It has marketed the app on several college campuses, and the company says it has more than 2 million users. Besides connecting friends, Twenty also helps users discover nearby events, and its strategic partners include Live Nation, according to a company news release.

Herbert defended the state signing a contract with Twenty to create and implement the separate Healthy Together app.

“As people design and spend money and take risks, if they come up with a better mousetrap, we should pay for it,” Herbert said.

Allgood was CEO and Jayson Ahlstrom was president of ClassTop, Inc., an Orem developer of education-related apps that in 2008 was one of the first companies to receive funding from Facebook’s fbFund.

In 2011, ClassTop spun out Juxta Labs, Inc., a San Francisco developer of game and social media mobile apps, according to Allgood’s LinkedIn page. Among its apps, Juxta created Mappen, a location-sharing app marketed to young people and “designed to help real friends get together in real life.”

Juxta was acquired by Twenty, and Allgood and Ahlstrom are among Twenty’s four founders, with CEO Diesel Peltz and President Mark French.

The Healthy Together app, which is free to download, can be found in the Google and Apple app stores, at coronavirus.utah.gov or at healthytogetherutah.com.

Sheila R. McCann contributed to this story.