Contact tracing app helped lower COVID cases in Minnesota, CIO says

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Minnesota’s contact tracing app played a contributing role in the state’s ability to lower COVID-19 case levels after the virus peaked in November, statewide Chief Information Officer Tarek Tomes said in an interview Wednesday. With new daily cases now a fraction of what they were several weeks ago, Tomes said the state hopes to continue that positive trend with the upcoming launch of an online dashboard that tracks data on COVID-19 vaccinations.

Minnesota’s contact tracing app, COVIDaware MN, launched in November using the Exposure Notifications platform, developed jointly by Apple and Google, as the state’s 7-day average topped 7,000 new daily cases. Officials said the app has since been downloaded 367,000 times in a state with a population of about 5.6 million.

“It’s really emblematic of how communities come together to protect each other and help safeguard each other,” Tomes said. “Our positivity rates have decreased significantly. A lot of things play into that and certainly the app is a contributing factor. We do really believe strongly that adoption as low as 10-15% represents important contributions towards reducing the spread.”

As COVID-19 vaccinations began, Tomes said he was challenged to gather data on that effort from more than 270 health care providers and publish it on a new online dashboard, which will “probably” launch next week. 

“It’s just a huge data aggregation effort,” he said. “Everything from tracking the amount of vaccine that has been allocated to number of vaccines that have actually shipped and been disseminated to clinics and then collecting that data back from clinics settings as it relates to the number of doses that have been administered.”

Tomes said the new dashboard will allow residents to gauge the population’s progress in getting vaccinated, as well as “advocate for populations that need help.”

“[It’s been] a really tremendous collaborative effort with our Department of Health, to produce a really leading data visualization dashboard that allows you to see demographic information related to people that have been vaccinated, the vaccine capacity that exists in Minnesota, the number of people that have been vaccinated, where vaccine clinic locations are and really critical information to share with the public,” Tomes said.

Most states are undertaking similar efforts through their health departments to publish data on COVID-19 vaccination, either creating new tools or publishing the data on their existing open data platforms. It’s common for states to update their dashboards daily and require health care providers to notify the state of all new COVID-19 vaccine administrations within 24 hours.

This story was updated to correct the number of app downloads.

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COVID-19, Minnesota, Open Data, Tarek Tomes, vaccination
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