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Google, Apple and MUSC team up on a contact tracing app for SC

An interface built by Google and Apple Inc. will be bringing technology to South Carolinians that will aid in efforts by public health workers to trace coronavirus cases and help prevent future outbreaks. 

The willingness of residents to buy into and use the smartphone-based contact tracing technology will determine its success. Their participation could help curb the spread of the disease.

South Carolina is among a handful of early states to sign up for the project. The app has yet to be named, and is still in development, with the Medical University of South Carolina taking the lead role in the Palmetto State.

It's a voluntary buy-in for residents, who can share whether they have become infected with COVID-19. Then, others who have downloaded the app will be notified if they came near someone who reported a positive test result. The software is powered by Bluetooth, and won't involve users' GPS location data.

If a person with the app receives a COVID-19 diagnosis, it will be up to them to decide if they want to share the information.

Apple and Google, in a joint statement Wednesday, have named their effort Exposure Notifications. The longtime rivals teamed up to create the interface, which states can then use to develop their own apps. 

"Over the last several weeks, our two companies have worked together, reaching out to public health officials, scientists, privacy groups and government leaders all over the world to get their input and guidance," the Silicon Valley giants said in a joint statement. 

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The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has said contact tracing will be central to efforts to keep the virus contained. The health department is hiring hundreds of investigators to help. DHEC and MUSC signed a letter of intent May 1 agreeing that the state-supported health system would spearhead development of the app. 

MUSC would then share data the app collects with DHEC, in service of public health. The app will have to go through multiple approvals with DHEC and state leadership.

The letter between the two agencies calls for MUSC to make a database that would store anonymous test results and notify users of recent positive tests, as well as "building and facilities that may have been contaminated."

Preserving privacy of the participants is central to the effort, each organization involved has said.

The app will be available on both iOS and Android devices.

Alabama and North Dakota are among other early adopters.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-607-4312. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.

Mary Katherine, who also goes by MK, is a reporter covering health care and technology for The Post and Courier's business desk. She grew up in upstate New York and enjoys playing cards, kayaking and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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