RIT encourages university community to use COVID Alert NY app

Help fight against COVID-19 with voluntary, anonymous, exposure-notification smartphone app

RIT is encouraging members of the university community to download and use COVID Alert NY, the official New York exposure notification system app.

A new app from the New York State Department of Health can alert people if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 — and all without compromising user privacy and personal information.

To help fight against COVID-19, RIT is encouraging the university community to use the COVID Alert NY app. The more people using the app, the more effective it will be as a tool for contact tracing and preventing spread of the virus.

The app works by notifying users if they have been in close contact — within six feet for at least 10 minutes — with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Experts say that knowing about a potential exposure can help individuals quickly make a plan to stay safe, including contacting their physician or the state hotline to get more information about quarantining and testing.

For those concerned about privacy, the app is anonymous and does not track or collect any personal data, such as the user’s movement or geographical location. Instead, the app uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to detect proximity to other devices. RIT will never see or aggregate any of the data.

“RIT receives no direct benefit from the app, but we could see an indirect advantage. The app can potentially help in detecting significant contacts through our conscientious users’ self-reporting,” said Dr. Wendy Gelbard, RIT associate vice president of Wellness. “I see the app as another tool we can use to detect and prevent spread of illness.”

COVID Alert NY is the official exposure notification app created in partnership with Google and Apple. The app is a regional effort that works in conjunction with similar apps in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. 

“Most IT folks are highly recommending the use of this app to friends and colleagues because the data traded is anonymous and doesn’t need any personally identifiable information,” said Jeanne Casares, associate vice president and RIT’s Chief Information Officer. “The COVID Alert NY app is a safe and easy way to catch more cases through self-reporting — which is important. It’s fast, easy to download, and would be put to good use in our community.”

Users must explicitly choose to turn on exposure notifications — and can turn it off at any time. The anonymous app is not able (and was not designed) to identify whom users might have been exposed to and where. Also, it will not collect, transmit, or store user’s personal information.

The alert only occurs if both parties have the app and keep Bluetooth enabled at all times. The alert system will work more effectively with a higher percentage of the RIT community using the app.

The free mobile app is available to anyone 18 or older who lives, works, or attends college in New York state. It is available for download from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

Opting to use this app does not replace the requirement for faculty, staff, and students to complete the RIT Daily Health Screen every day, seven days a week, whether or not they are coming to campus. The RIT community should also continue to use Location Check-In, to aid in contact tracing efforts.