In most states, Americans will no longer receive notifications of a Covid infection on their smartphones after the end of the US public health emergency.
As of 2020, almost 30 countries are using a Bluetooth system developed by Apple And Google to track the spread of Covid infections and to send push notifications to all smartphone users who have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus.
The national server running the system was hosted by the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
On Thursday, the organization said that “a majority of states” stopped using the exposure reporting system after the Biden administration ended the public health emergency on May 11.
APHL added that key components of the system are no longer supported, which should help Millions of Americans are tracking their exposures and making decisions about isolating and testing for the virus.
In a joint statement Apple And Google did not address states’ decisions to stop using the system.
The tech giants told CNBC the system has helped health officials fight Covid in a way that protects privacy, citing how it tracks infections without capturing users’ location or identities.
California, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia, New Mexico and Colorado are among the states that have said they will stop using the system after the U.S. declaration of emergency ends.
“These systems should be shut down the same day the country’s COVID-19 state of emergency ends,” California’s Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement late Thursday.
Several states used the system to create apps that smartphone users could download, such as CA Notify and WA Notify.
States also provided exposure notifications through a built-in feature in Apple and Google’s operating systems.
This method required state health departments to submit a configuration file to Apple and Google with their contact information and Covid notices. The two tech companies would use the file to set up a feature on phones that users could turn on to receive notifications.
On Friday, some Apple users who opted in for this feature received push notifications informing them that their iPhones “stop logging nearby devices and you won’t be alerted to potential compromises.”
An Apple user shared in a Twitter post that their warning read, “Your public health agency has disabled exposure notifications.”
However, as of Friday afternoon, not all Apple and Google users in states that no longer use the exposure reporting system have received similar warnings.
Neither Apple nor Google addressed why some users received notifications while others did not.
There’s no clear figure on how many Americans have turned on the exposure notification feature on their phones or downloaded apps over the past three years.
Virginia estimates that since the launch of these tools in 2020, more than 3 million users have downloaded the state’s app or used the notification feature.
New Mexico said the “majority” of residents have the notifications feature turned on on their phones. According to the state, more than 1.5 million alerts have been sent to users who may have been exposed to Covid.
Washington said the state has generated more than 2.5 million exposure alerts through its app or alerts feature.
Researchers in Washington found that the state’s notification tools saved an estimated 30 to 120 lives and likely prevented about 6,000 Covid cases in the first four months after their launch in November 2020.
Despite these benefits, some Americans are skeptical about tools used to report Covid exposure.
A 2021 report by the US Government Accountability Office said the public had raised privacy concerns. The report says the public may not trust both local governments and tech companies to handle sensitive health information.
State decisions to halt Covid exposure reporting are part of a broader shift in how the country is responding to the pandemic.
Health officials have eased Covid restrictions like masking and social distancing over the past year as more Americans have been vaccinated and vaccinated against the virus.
This culminated in the end of the public health emergency, which phased out much of the funding and flexibility that had helped expand Covid testing, insurance coverage and access to healthcare during the pandemic.
Still, more than 1,000 Americans die from Covid every week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.