Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2020

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New cellphone app helps trace coronavirus in Nevada

COVID Trace App

screenshot

COVID Trace is Nevada’s newest COVID-19 mitigation tool. It is a free contact tracing app designed to let users know if they’ve possibly been exposed to the virus. This image shows screenshots of different pages from the app.

Thousands of Nevadans are downloading a new cellphone app that alerts users if they have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

The COVID Trace Nevada app anonymously exchanges IDs with nearby phones with the app installed and alerts the user if one of those IDs has been tied to a case of COVID-19.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday released a short video urging people to use the app, which can be downloaded at the Apple and Android app stores.

“It protects you, it protects your family and it protects our entire community,” Sisolak said.

To date, Nevada has had more than 66,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 1,250 related deaths, mostly in the Las Vegas area.

Created by the state Department of Health and Human Services, the app, launched Monday, had been downloaded some 15,000 times as of Wednesday.

A number of casino companies and other businesses are encouraging employees to use the app, including Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, the Cosmopolitan and Boyd Gaming.

Others include the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Las Vegas Raiders and Allegiant Air.

Callie Driehorst, a spokeswoman for MGM Resorts, said the app adds an “additional layer” to MGM’s coronavirus safety plan.

“The importance of contact tracing cannot be understated,” Driehorst said. “As the largest operator on the Strip, we want to do our part to help drive broad adoption because the more people who utilize it, the more useful it becomes.”

Sonya Padgett, a spokeswoman for Allegiant, said the app is another tool to help bring the virus under control.

“We all have a part to play in defeating this virus, and the COVID Trace app is one more weapon in Nevada’s public health arsenal that will help us,” she said.

As of Tuesday morning, no Allegiant employees using the app had received a virus exposure alert, she said. She did not say how many employees had downloaded it.

If an app user tests positive for COVID-19, they are contacted by state health officials and asked for permission to add their phone ID to the database of positive cases.

The app then alerts other users who recently have been in close proximity to that phone.

The app creates a random ID for users that changes every 10 to 20 minutes to ensure it can’t be used to identify users or their location. The system does not share users’ identities with other users, Google or Apple.

Lori Nelson-Kraft, senior vice president of communications for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the app has the potential to be a “game changer for the tourism industry.”

“We will begin encouraging our employees, customers of the Convention Center and visitors to Las Vegas to download and use the app as an essential tool to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Nelson-Kraft said.

Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said contact tracing is “a key component in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and getting our economy back on track.”

Nevada took a massive economic hit when casinos were shut down for more than two months starting in mid-March to help curb the spread of the virus.

Gaming revenue was near zero in April and May and has been slowly climbing back since then. Casino winnings were down some 26% in July.

“Wide adoption of this technology has the power to further flatten the curve, provide another level of security and boost consumer confidence, which will help our tourism-based economy recover sooner,” Valentine said.