Contact tracing app ready for Isle of Wight trial this week: Hancock. But is it ready for rollout? (updated)

Announced today was what in normal times we’d call a beta test of the contact tracing app [TTA 25 April] developed by NHSX on the Isle of Wight. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced it Sunday to Sky News. BBC News detailed today that council and healthcare workers will be first to try the contact-tracing app starting Tuesday at 4pm, with the rest of the island able to download it starting Thursday. Gov.UK  The Isle of Wight has approximately 80,000 households.

Update: How the Isle of Wight residents reacted to the app. BBC News

How the app works: if someone reports COVID-19 symptoms through the app, that information goes to the NHS server and the server downloads that tracking information. The app then notifies the other app users that the person has been in contact with over the past few days, contact being defined as within 6 feet for 15 minutes. This can include someone a person has sat next to on public transport. The tracking in the app is via Bluetooth LE to other mobile phones. The app then alerts contacts with the app and gives advice, including how to get a test to confirm whether or not they do have COVID-19. Users will be able order tests through the app shortly.

Use of the app is voluntary and personal data is limited to postal code and what the user opts in to. So the intent of the app is to warn and test to reduce future outbreaks, as full lockdown is not and cannot be a permanent state. Mr. Shapps stated to Sky that the goal is 50 to 60 percent of the country using the app.

Unfortunately, many of the most vulnerable–older, sicker, and poorer adults–won’t have the smartphone, much less the app, and even with the smartphone, won’t be able to download the app or use it. It’s dependent on self-reporting, which may or may not be reliable. Phones can turn off Bluetooth LE. Another consideration, and one this Editor hopes has been tested, are extremes: extreme density in population and contact areas, and extreme distance, as in rural areas. Additional from BBC News, including a short Matt Hancock clip from the Monday briefing with an almost-touch of his nose or mouth right at the start (!)

The Guardian brings up privacy concerns as well as a Health Service Journal (HSJ) report that the app was ‘wobbly’ and had cybersecurity concerns which would exclude it from the NHS’ own app store. The HSJ story quoted their source stating that the government is “going about it in a kind of a hamfisted way. They haven’t got clear versions, so it’s been impossible to get fixed code base from them for NHS Digital to test. They keep changing it all over the place”.  The reporting data also will reside on NHS servers, not individual phones, but pushes out the alert from the server.

Worldometer gives the current UK statistic as total of 190,584 with 28,734 deaths. While case diagnosis continues to increase, fatalities have been steeply declining. There is concern that COVID is yet to spike in rural areas, as cases have concentrated in Greater London, the Midlands, and the North West. New York and New Jersey alone in the US have over 456,000 cases with just under 32,900 fatalities attributed to COVID-19, 3/4 of which have been in NY–almost as much as the entire UK. (However, the fatality statistic is widely questioned as not screened for contributing causes, since there are certain incentives for attribution.)

In other NHS news, NHS Digital, the information and tech side of NHS (not the innovation unit) has named a new deputy chief executive. Pete Rose will also take on the role of chief information security officer for the Health and Care System, including live services, cybersecurity, solutions assurance, infrastructure, and sustainability.

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