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Blog

COVID Tracker Updates Version 1.0.2

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This is first in a series of updates describing the ongoing development of the COVID Tracker app. Since our release on the 7th of July we have had 2 updates to the COVID Tracker app the first was a maintenance release to correct some issues found post go-live and the second to enable interoperability with Northern Ireland (this is the first interoperable contact tracing solution globally). Our plan is to incrementally improve COVID Tracker every 2-3 weeks over the coming months. This roadmap will include user experience, accessibility, language support, interoperability, and of course contact tracing related updates.

Latest App Update

We are asking everyone that has the app on their phone to update to the latest version and also to update their phone’s software to the latest version from Apple and Google.

The importance of the app

As we have said from the start. The app does not replace the normal contact tracing process but is a really significant enhancement. It helps us to speed up the contact tracing process. People can restrict their movements as soon as they get an alert while they are waiting to talk to the contact tracing team who will arrange a test for them. This is really important as it reduces the number of people that could potentially be exposed to the virus.

The biggest game-changer though is that it means that we can get in touch with close contacts that are unknown to each other. Manual contact tracing simply can’t do this. Whether they happen in a restaurant, café, out shopping or on public transport.

So how’s it working

Whilst Bluetooth has been around for a while and lots of people use it to listen to music or take hands free calls in the car, using it for contact tracing is new and the speed at which it is being developed is incredible. Teams from health services around the world are collaborating with each other, Apple and Google and Irish and international research teams to improve the technology and reliability to make the Exposure Notification System which underpins provides the contact tracing functionality.

Everyone is now interested in how well this is working. The app has already notified over 800 people who have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus. This means they get the information they need quickly to reduce the spread of the virus and our Contact Tracing Team has been able to organise testing for them. Unfortunately, some of these close contacts have gone on to test positive for coronavirus. 

We have seen very rapid adoption of the app by Irish citizens. This is really encouraging but not surprising. Irish citizens have taken on board all the other public health measures such as wearing masks and social distancing. Since launch we have been using the number of users who complete the onboarding process as the reported number of users. This metric is visible on the Contact Tracing card was designed to provide feedback on the adoption rate. Our plans are to replace this with a coverage metric e.g. COVID Tracker Users with ENS enabled/Population = Total Coverage. This metric will only be reflective of the actual coverage once all users have updated the app to the latest version. 

This will tell us about how many people the app is actively protecting rather than just how many people have downloaded it, a much more important and useful indicator of effectiveness.

What’s in version 1.02

The new version of COVID Tracker is 1.0.2, this version is focused on addressing feedback we have received since go-live from users, operational & support issues we have encountered since launch and maintenance updates to correct issues reported or discovered either in COVID Tracker or from the other global teams we are collaborating with.

The first major change you will see is the Updates card in the app. We received lots of feedback relating to the information we were sharing in this feature and a common theme was that users are looking for more timely & local information, e.g. what happened in the previous 24 hours, fortnight and what happened in my county. We have removed the % of users who were “good no symptoms” or “not feeling well today” as the 99% to 1% didn’t provide valuable feedback. We will be adding information derived from this data in future releases. The overall number of check-ins will still be available but our focus is shifting to other metrics like % population coverage. 

You can filter the previous 2 weeks, 2 months or since the COVID -19 pandemic began. We are also providing a break down by county with the same information. We use statistics provided by GeoHive (https://covid19ireland-geohive.hub.arcgis.com/) the Dept. of Health’s data hub.  The overall data in GeoHive refreshes daily around 18:00. The national statistics are up to date within 24 hours and the county level statistics are 2-3 days old. We had included the dates at the bottom of this card but we are dating all data displayed so you can be clear about the official numbers.

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Figure 1: COVID-19 Case Statistics

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Figure 2: County COVID-19 Cases

We are providing information on the Updates card to bring people’s attention to any changes in the Data Protection Information Notice or the Terms & Conditions of use. This will be active for 48 hours unless dismissed. We want to ensure that we are transparent about changes to the app.

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We will also notify users that an update of the COVID Tracker app is available for download.

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We have already released the app in Irish and this latest release includes a Portuguese language version of the app. The next release, 1.0.3 will include Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and French in version 1.0.3. We will also be looking for native speakers of these languages to participate in feedback programs to help ensure the translations are accurate and sensible. 

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Please contact digital@hse.ie with the subject COVID Tracker New Languages if you have a suggestion for language support or want to help improve the accuracy or your language.

Throughout the app we are providing more feedback when an error occurs. We had reports from users of challenges completing onboarding, we tracked this down to an issue relating to the time on the phone; if the phone time was incorrect +/-10 mins the verification we use to ensure the device is a real phone fails. In this release we will provide better information to the user about this issue and how to correct it.

Working to make it better

COVID Tracker has been designed to be privacy preserving, we haven’t used any crash reporting tools or analytics plugins to give us what would be standard operational information for regular apps. As a result, our ability to know what’s going on with COVID Tracker in the wild is limited and we rely on the people that are using the app to let us know about how it is working. Teams around the world that are developing ENS based apps are collaborating to share issues and fixes. In this release we are introducing one key new metric regarding Error reporting, this will report technical error information to the HSE to give us some insights into the issues users are facing in particular onboarding issues and contact tracing background processing.

Apple and Google are continuously working to improve how the Exposure Notification System works. The latest version improves background processing for ENS based apps. Background processing enables a contact tracing app and the exposure notification system to work in the background when a contact tracing app is not open or the phone is not in use. A regular app is subject to the rules of the phone it is installed on. If the battery is low, background processing may be terminated by the operating system (iOS or Android), its ability to start and continuously run is limited by whatever permissions the operating system and the user has allowed. Examples of these types of issues include when specific power saving rules are in place or after restarting the phone before the app is opened and may mean that either the app does not download the latest Random IDs until the app is opened or that the phone does not share keys until the phone is sufficiently charged.

 

To improve ENS performance Google and Apple have released updates that allow ENS to bypass these restrictions and ensure it runs more reliably in the background. We have also updated our app to ensure that the app will work at all times in the background.

 

We are working as hard as we can to ensure COVID Tracker helps you stay safe and protect each other. We are committed to sharing issues we find with users who have chosen to trust COVID Tracker and answer questions that arise from this. We can’t guarantee that there won’t be issues or things that need improving but our team supported by NearForm, Google, Apple, Amazon Web Services, Science Foundation Ireland and others are committed to ensuring that COVID Tracker can help us fight COVID-19.