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Kansas City-developed app would alert you to potential COVID-19 exposure

Posted at 6:07 PM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-20 20:40:10-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City-developed app could soon help curve the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Private Kit: Safe Paths" is an app that tracks its users' location every five minutes. If users test positive for COVID-19, they can voluntarily send their location data to other users in an effort to alert them of a possible exposure.

"At the rate the infection is spreading, we need to work towards flattening the curve, and this is a major part of being able to do that," TripleBlind CEO Riddhiman Das said.

TripleBlind is helping develop the app along with researchers across the globe, including at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Currently, when an individual tests positive and is placed in self-quarantine, health department officials trace their prior whereabouts to determine who they might have exposed. Officials then monitor those individuals.

"Once you find that person who is positive, we want to look at everybody who has been in close contact with them, sort of that close contact with them. People who have spent more than 10 minutes, within six feet of each other," said Elizabeth Holzschuh, an epidemiologist at Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

Remembering where a person has been and who they have been in contact with, however, can often be difficult. "Private Kit: Safe Paths" streamlines that contact-tracing process.

"The important part of this is we do not want to expose anyone’s important data," said TripleBlind's Vice President of Product Development Steve Penrod. "When you are comparing data, all that it says is that you have had an exposure. You don’t know where, you don’t know who. All that it tells you is there’s a potential you crossed points."

The app keeps a time-stamped log of a user's location every five minutes. The data is encrypted so users cannot identify one another.

"We needed to figure out a system that did not encroach on people’s privacy," Das said.

The app is still a prototype but is available for download on both the Google Play market and iOS.