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N.Y., N.J. Unveil New 'COVID Alert' Apps That Notify Users If They're Within 6 Feet Of Someone Who Has Tested Positive

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York, along with other states in the Northeast, are taking the tracking of coronavirus cases to a new level.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday the state has created a new tracing app that will notify residents when they have come in contact with someone who has tested positive.

The app, called COVID Alert NY, is free and is now available on Apple and Android devices.

"(The app) will tell you if you were within six feet of a person who tested positive for 10 minutes," Cuomo said. "It will tell you if you're in contact with a COVID-positive person."

The governor said Larry Schwartz, one of his former secretaries and currently a member of the state COVID-19 Task Force, worked with Bloomberg Philanthropies, Google, Apple, and other companies on the technology.

"As you know, testing is only as good as your contact tracing, right? Testing is to identify a person. So you can isolate and quarantine that person and then find the connections from that person. And that's contact tracing. We have about 15,000 people statewide who do contact tracing-equivalent disease detectives, but we've been looking for a technology-based solution," Cuomo said.

Obviously, tracking COVID-19 cases is a two-way street. The governor said when someone tests positive the Department of Health will send them a password that will register them within the app. Then, other phones that have downloaded the app will be notified when they come within six feet of the infected person's phone.


Cuomo said the app works off cellphone data, but emphasized to those with privacy concerns that it "doesn't give names, doesn't give any privacy information."

"It's completely confidential. We don't collect any data. We don't track people ... It's completely a voluntary program," Schwartz said, adding the app is compatible with top six languages spoken in the state.

Google released an explanation of how the technology works, showing how it disguises a user's identity with a random sequence of numbers that changes every few minutes.

New Jersey announced it, too, is using the same technology. The app is expected to soon be available in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut.

"Over the course of our public health emergency, we've called for a shared sense of personal responsibility to support our contact tracing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19," Gov. Phil Murphy said. "With the launch of COVID Alert NJ and our regional app network, New Jerseyans and residents in our neighboring states can support our fight against COVID-19 simply by downloading an application on their phone. The app is free and secure, and your identity, personally identifying information, and location will never be collected. The more phones that have the app, the better we can fight this pandemic."

Residents In Hot Spot Areas Of NYC Starting To Worry

Gravesend, Brooklyn resident Keo Wiliama started his day in Seth Low Park at one of the city's free mobile testing units to get his first COVID-19 test. He said he was surprised to find few people, especially since Bensonhurst is considered a hot spot.

"I don't think a lot of people are taking this as serious as they should," Wiliama told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.

"People need to understand that it's for personal safety to go and test yourself," Bensonhurst resident Raia Serebrenak added.

MORECOVID-19 Infections Continue To Increase In Some NYC Hot Spots

The state is targeting 20 hot spot zip codes where the average rate of positive tests rose to 6.5% -- with noted growth in Rockland County and Brooklyn, Cuomo said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said 1,000 city workers have been out on the streets doing education efforts, free mask distribution, inspections, and visiting schools and businesses. In all, 130 warnings were issued on Wednesday. However, the governor said all that is not enough.

"If they're not wearing masks, they should be fines. There should be enforcement. Enforcement works," Cuomo said.

MORECOVID-19 Positivity Rate Hits 27% In Lakewood, New Jersey

Many of the problematic zip codes are home to the Orthodox Jewish community, which Brooklyn community activist Isaac Abraham said has been unfairly targeted, creating a lack of trust toward public officials.

"We have been watching this the last three to four months where the governor and the mayor are playing tennis and the tennis ball is the Jewish community. We are being slapped around like crazy," Abraham said. "In Harlem, they're having parades, Black Lives Matter is having demonstrations and rallies, and then you have other parties going on."

Watch Jenna DeAngelis' report --

But Jewish leader and former Assemblyman Dov Hikind says the problem with compliance, especially when it comes to large gatherings, isn't a stereotype, it's a fact.

"The leading rabbis, I wanna hear from them. I wanna hear them telling everyone that if you violate the rules, you are disobeying god," Hikind told CBS2's Jessica Layton. "Because we're talking about human life here. There's nothing more valuable in Judaism than life."

One Borough Park business owner said he has seen a difference in compliance this week.

"Before the weekend basically no one was wearing a mask until the alerts started coming out on TV," said Ludovico Masucci of the Brooklyn Italians Youth Soccer Club.

"We started getting the message. We started to take wearing masks already. We understand we have to do that and that's what we're starting to do," Borough Park resident Chyam Travis said.

Officers stood outside a corner market in Williamsburg on Thursday night, passing out PPE and insisting the men, women and children passing by put on a mask.

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