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Contact tracing through Healthy Together App now fully functional

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Contact tracing through Healthy Together App now fully functional, health department says (Photo: KUTV)

Contact tracing through the Healthy Together App is up and running nearly three months after Utah taxpayers fronted millions in a no-bid contract for the app.

Many experts say tracking where sick people have been is one of the best tools to beat a pandemic. At least 53,000 people have downloaded the app since it launched; 17,000 were referred for testing; 11,000 people got tested. Of those, 180 tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The health department does not keep public data on who gets traced, but that means the most cases in which tracers could have tracked people’s whereabouts through the app is 180 so far.

Technology through the app allows for consenting users locations to be tracked. For months the Utah Department of Health waited for the app developer to finish the technology to make that possible.

“The contact tracing, the location history portion of this, certainly took longer than we envisioned it would, and I think there's a number of different reasons for that,” said department spokesman Tom Hudachko.

With more cases in recent weeks, Hudachko says contact tracing has become more difficult.

“Every positive case we identify has upwards of 20 individuals or so who we potentially need to do some sort of follow-up with to determine their level of risk," he said.

State epidemiologist warns: Risk of COVID-19 spread in Utah is 'higher than ever'

The app has been criticized by some for being bought too quickly for too much and not doing enough. Hudachko says it does more than just contact trace. It can be used for assessment, testing, and messaging "in terms of what people should be doing based in the results of their test,” Hudachko said.

So far, staff at the Davis, Salt Lake, and Utah County health departments have been trained to contact trace through the app.

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