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Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber addresses the community during an October webcast. The city is working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to implement a smartphone app to track the COVID-19 outbreak.

Santa Fe city officials are working with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University to implement a first-of-its-kind smartphone app that would let residents track when COVID-19 is impacting their social circle.

The program, called NOVID, has been promoted on select college campuses. It will be the first time officials from a U.S. city are seeking to adopt the technology for widespread use. The app is free and available to anyone.

Mayor Alan Webber said in a briefing Monday the city soon will be signing an agreement with the team at Carnegie Mellon to offer the app to residents, though it has been promoting it on signs around town.

Po-Shen Loh, a math professor at Carnegie Mellon, said the app models social networks to accurately measure where COVID-19 is spreading and alert people before they come into contact with someone who was likely exposed to the virus.

"I think we're the first city to really try to put it out front and center as a radar detecting system for COVID," Webber said. "Until vaccinations become much more pervasive, this is a tool that really adds to Santa Fe's ability to keep people safe."

According to NOVID's website, the project offers "a next generation mobile application" that "allows users to proactively make decisions based on their risk of infection."

The app offers an early warning network, accurate contact tracing data, ensures anonymity and can work in the background of other mobile phone applications without using too much power, according to NOVID.

Loh developed the app in concert with nearly two-dozen students at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. In an interview, Loh said he expects other cities to adopt the system, which he said could be applicable to future pandemics for other diseases.

"It's a breakthrough," Loh said. "This is something that previously did not exist elsewhere. The value goes far beyond COVID."



The app informs people of possible exposure from their social interactions and allows them to notify others who may have come into contact with a possible exposure, or to be notified of a positive test from someone in their network.

The app doesn’t collect personal information and provides for anonymity, according to NOVID’s website.

If every person in Santa Fe who downloads the app convinces two others to do the same, it will be successful, Loh said. The idea, he said, is to take the concept of viral replication and turn it back against the virus itself.

Rich Brown, director of community and economic development for the city, said in a statement Santa Fe officials are currently looking into the ways they could use the technology to battle the COVID-19 crisis. 

After downloading the app —  information can be found at novid.org — residents should enter the code "SANTAFE" in the settings page to join the Santa Fe community within the system.

Meanwhile, the city is in the process of unveiling a vaccine distribution plan. State health officials submitted their 60-page vaccine distribution blueprint to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October, though they didn't have a target date for when a vaccine might be available to the general public.

Webber said City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill was meeting with other city officials Monday to discuss the city's vaccination distribution plan. City spokesman David Herndon did not offer other details about the plan, which he said is still being developed.

Health officials have expressed confidence in surmounting obstacles for distributing the vaccine across New Mexico, but have acknowledged in the distribution plan that the state has unique challenges, including a rural and far-flung population served by sparse health services and facilities.

(8) comments

Lee Vigil

It's an interesting idea, but in order to track your network, your network - friends, family, coworkers, etc. would have to register and download the app, otherwise, you have spotty coverage. I'm skeptical given that everyone in your network would have to opt in in order for the app to be reliable. There are already comments in this newspapers below about folks who don't trust the app re: privacy, etc. Does that also mean someone would have to maintain the app - update their own status? I'm not so sure about claims of anonymity either. If someone comes close to you who's positive, and you get an alert, wouldn't their identity be revealed?

Lee DiFiore

This sounds like a wonderful idea. NOT! Let the government track your movements, friends and who you have contact with? OK I guess if you trust the government. Yeah, right.

Chris Mechels

As usual with Webber the PR outruns the facts, and his ignorance is on display. For instance his reference to this app as a "radar detecting system". Is the app going to detect radar?? In fact it has nothing to do with radar of course. Alan, knowing nothing of radar, and apps, is just doing the Alan buzzzzzz...

Such apps do show promise, but Santa Fe, and New Mexico in general, suffer from a poor infrastructure, and that will make the app less effective than in other areas. But, in the meantime, its a great PR gimmick. Buzzzzz....

Devin Bent

This is for city "residents"? What about people who work or shop or pickup takeout in the city? Or who live nearby in the county? Would it make sense for them to use this app? Is it free to them? Would it help to protect them or others? It seems like use by non-residents would be beneficial, but it would help if the questions were asked and answered in the article.

Shelley Longmire

Alert to new people signing up and trying to enter the code word "SANTA FE". That is actually "SANTAFE" with no spaces! It took me a few tries to figure that out!

I initially thought the way Mr. Velasco did that this is just one more way to be tracked but big brother but in this case with this app being anonymous I broke down early and its been one of those lost and forgotten apps on my phone until I saw this article! I am excited that we have one more tool in our toolkit to combat this virus! Hopefully more of you out there will join so we can all stay safe and know we are being cautious enough while we wait for the vaccine!

Donna Landwehr

I downloaded this app about 6 weeks ago. I can attest that it runs seamlessly in the background on my Android phone.

What I don't understand is why the city will be signing an agreement. It is free! It just needs to be advertised.

Donato Velasco

the deep socialist state is slowly tracking your every move .. it all ready does but getting you to except it is slowly coming..

Dan Frazier

I don't know how useful this system really is. But I do know that not everyone has a smart phone. Prisoners may not have phones, for instance. Nursing home residents are another group that may not have phones. Homeless people ... The poor ... I see some possible gaps in coverage.

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