Americans resoundingly reject COVID tracking apps even as Omicron spreads

Most states and a majority of Americans are still refusing to use apps developed by Google and Apple for use on smartphones to inform persons when they have been exposed to COVID-19, even as the Omicron variant breaks and spreads around the country.

Early in the pandemic, as governments around the world sought such a capability, the two tech behemoths developed a tracking framework over the course of months, which was viewed as unprecedented cooperation between a pair of rivals.

The effort was a “land speed record for software development,” Myoung Cha, who assisted the project as Apple’s head of strategic health initiatives, told the Washington Post.

However, around two years later, the system still is not being utilized on the scale that its creators envisioned, the liberal paper reported, pointing a finger specifically at the “large” red states of Texas and Florida, whose governors and legislatures are not keen on tracking their citizens for any reason.

But residents in blue states appear to be equally leery of the technology.

“Even in states where millions have activated the notifications, only a fraction of people who test positive for the virus report it to the Apple and Google system. California’s system, for example, has been activated on more than 15 million devices, but only about 3 percent of the nearly 3.9 million cases reported since launch were logged in the system,” the Post reported.

The paper went on to cite the “decentralized” U.S. health system as a big contributor to the problem while blaming “some Republican-led governments” said to have “purposefully downplayed the risks of the virus and pulled away from wide-ranging public health measures.”

Nevertheless, Cha also noted that the federal government hasn’t put much effort into convincing understandably reluctant Americans to utilize the system much more widely.

“The Biden administration, when they came into power, put almost all their chips into the vaccines as their silver bullet to beat the virus,” Cha said. “I think that was strategically the biggest mistake.”

The virus strain Omicron spreads much more readily than previous strains, but it is also far less lethal and serious, according to researchers including the South African scientist who discovered it.

That said, over the summer, as the delta variant spread and increased deaths, the Biden administration focused instead on vaccinations, even enlisting Hollywood entertainers to help make the push. In addition, President Biden issued a vaccine mandate for federal workers, contractors, and private companies with more than 100 employees, though all three of them have met legal challenges and seem destined for the Supreme Court.

Left out of these approaches to controlling the virus’ spread, however, was the contact tracing apps.

“We built the Exposure Notifications System to help public health authorities during this historic pandemic in a privacy-preserving way. We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have used — that has helped protect public health,” said Google spokesperson Nicolas Lopez and Apple spokesperson Semonti Stephens in a joint statement.

Jon Dougherty


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