Shortly after midnight on Dec. 31, many Oregonians received a push notification on their phones proclaiming great news to open the year: The Oregon Health Authority had released an app that would warn people if they were exposed to a COVID-19 outbreak.
"Exposure Notifications Available," the push notification said. "Get notified of possible exposure to COVID-19 by Oregon Health Authority."
It was a false alarm. The contact-tracing app isn't ready.
And state health officials spent the first day of 2021 apologizing for the accidental launch, 10 months into the pandemic.
"The OR Exposure Notification Application, also known as OR Notify, was released earlier than anticipated," OHA said in a statement today. "Apple inadvertently turned the application on and will be turning it off. We apologize for the error."
The app uses the bluetooth signals in users' cellphones to exchange messages with other nearby phones whose users have opted into the program. If a person tells the app they've tested positive for COVID-19, the app informs any other users whose were in close proximity to the sick person in the past 14 days. The program just finished a test run at Oregon State University.
"System users will receive confidential alerts if they were in contact for a sustained period of time with another participant who has tested positive for COVID-19," OSU explained in November. "Participants also can quickly and anonymously alert other users if they test positive."
The mix-up appears to have occurred because the OSU test of the app ended yesterday. But health officials say the university is still examining the results of the pilot project to decide if the app is ready for use by the general public.
Meanwhile, OHA reported another 1,446 new COVID-19 cases on Jan. 1, and 13 more deaths. The state's vaccination deployment appears to be gaining speed; 44,415 people statewide have now received their first dose.
Correction: This post initially gave an inaccurate description of how the app's technology works. The explanation has been updated.