Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, along with mayors of Long Beach and Pasadena and county leaders announced on Wednesday, Sept. 9 a new mobile app, capable of notifying residents when they might have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

The app, called Citizen SafePass, is related to the Citizen app that already has roughly 1 million users in Los Angeles. The app provides real-time 911 alerts, instant help from crisis responders and safety tracking for friends and families.

The personal information collected by the app for the coronavirus contact tracing is completely private and encrypted, officials said. Users must opt-in to the tracking option and by doing so, users are alerted if they come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus within the past two weeks.

“Throughout this process we have been very careful to institute strict privacy precautions,” said L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Kathryn Barger, who called the app another tool in the anti-virus toolbox. “These (privacy precautions) are intended to fully protect the users and their contacts.”

The app uses built-in Bluetooth to anonymously track individuals and who they might have contacted. When someone is notified, the app tells them where and when they might have been exposed but does not reveal the person who tested positive.

Along with contact tracing, the app also shares helpful information with users on how to slow the spread of the virus along with public health alerts regarding such things as the rate of new cases in a particular neighborhood.

“Information is power,” Garcetti said. “The more you can know the faster you can act and the more lives you can save.”

One user during a Beta testing version of the app discovered that she was exposed during a protest to someone who tested positive for the virus. The woman, who was about to visit her immune-compromised parents, decided to get tested instead, according to Andrew Frame, Citizen CEO.

“This was a very surprising user experience to her because all she did was download an app and press a button,” Frame said.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the app would bolster the county’s efforts to contact as many people who tested positive for the virus and whoever else that might have been exposed. The county has 2,600 individuals deployed as contact tracers, who so far have interviewed 195,000 people with positive cases and 53,000 personal contacts.

“We need additional capacity and I’m so pleased we will be able to get some of this capacity through SafePass,” Ferrer said. “It also improves our ability to communicate with residents so we can share information.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, who lost his mother and stepfather to the coronavirus, said the new app is a valuable asset that can help provide a way for everyone to do their part to fight back against the virus. He said trends were looking positive in terms of hospitalizations and positivity rates.

“That doesn’t mean we can let up and certainly doesn’t mean that this crisis is over,” Garcia said. “We know people are losing their lives everyday. Families like mine and many others are being affected in very real and tragic ways.”

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek echoed the sentiments.

“I know that by now the residents of Pasadena are tired of hearing me tell them that until we have drugs that work, all we have to fight the disease is social distancing, face covering and good sanitation,” Tornek said. “Now we have something else we can use.”

The Citizen SafePass app can be downloaded directly on Apple or Android devices or activated through the Citizen app.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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