BY MORGAN LEGEL
Guam may have an uphill battle to encourage use of a COVID detection tool, if the state of Virginia’s experience is anything to go by.
However, that was recognized at the launch of the tool.
In a Sept. 4 stakeholders meeting and on Sept. 10 at a press conference, attendees got first look at Guam’s new exposure notification mobile phone application — the Guam COVID Alert.
Guam is the first U.S. territory to create and launch an exposure notification app, which is launched The app is launched through a partnership with the governor’s office, the Department of Public Health and Social Services and the Office of Technology, alongside other COVID-19 experts, with the intent to slow the spread of COVID on Guam.
In order to use the app, the user must download it from the Apple AppStore or the Android PlayStore, open the app and make sure to keep their Bluetooth feature on. From there, the app will use Bluetooth capabilities to “talk” with other phones that have the app downloaded. While no identifying info is ever shared, the app will log the other phones it “talks” to. If one of the users then inputs a positive COVID test result, all contacts made through the app will be notified to get tested or quarantine.
Janela Carrera, public information officer for DPHSS, said, “The success [of the app] depends on how many people have downloaded this app.”
In the Sept. 10 press conference, Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero said, “In order for it to be successful, we need a lot of people to use it… it’s one of many, many things we are doing on our island to prevent lives from being lost… I am asking you, I know everyone has a phone, take your time to download [the app.] I support the application, let’s try it.” She remained in good spirits throughout the conference, even suggesting a contest between the north and south of the island, which part can get more downloads.
The population of Guam is 165,768; Robert Kelley, consultant and owner of MCS LLC said the island has more than 180,000 cell phone numbers or app-enabled devices currently.
The figure includes people with more than one cell number, i.e. for work and personal use, any devices that have SMS functions for alerts, iPads, people who come and go to the island with Guam numbers, subsidized phone numbers through government programs and pre-paid phones with less frequent. Kelley said there are phones in Guam with foreign or stateside numbers, further making it difficult to estimate the number of actual phones on island.
With that, Kelley also estimated that of the population that is about 15 years or older, about 75%.
According to a presentation by DPHSS, for every 100 to 200 installs of the app, 100 infections will be prevented and one life will be saved; and if approximately 60% of the population use the app, the epidemic can be stopped.
Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio said, “Our contact tracers need help.” He also said that no other state that has an app has a usage rate of more than 38% of its population, and he challenged Guam to reach above that 38%, hoping to reach the 60% that would stop the epidemic.
The state of Virginia was one of the first to launch an exposure notification app like this, on Aug. 5. Only five other states have the app. As of Sept. 7, the Virginia app has received 493,878 downloads, approximately 17.3% of its 8.536 million population.
Jeffrey A. Stover, director of Virginia’s Department of Public Health, told the Journal in a Sept. 9 conversation, “It’s hard for us to indicate whether the target has been good, because there is not much for us to compare to in the United States.”
“We have continually increased every day since we launched, about 3,000 to 6,000 downloads a day,” Stover said.
On Sept. 7, 130 notifications went out on Virgina’s COVIDwise app. As of the beginning of September, there were more than 100 individuals who have submitted a positive result to the app.
Throughout the Sept. 4 GVB stakeholder meeting, it was mentioned many times that no identifying information will be shared and there is no way to reverse and steal any of the anonymous information that is gathered. The app also cannot track the location of the user.
In terms of personal identifying information, Stover said, “We don’t ask for it and we don’t need it.”
Monica Guzman, managing director and CEO of Galaide Group said, during the Sept. 4 meeting, “I believe we all have to do what we have to do to help the island in these unprecedented times.”
More information on the app can be found at Guamcovidalert.guam.gov. mbj