Pennsylvania expands virus app to school-age phone users

Covid. A parent or legal guardian must approve use of the app, which can be used by children as young as 13.

| 02 Dec 2020 | 02:40

(AP) Pennsylvania’s two-month-old coronavirus exposure notification app can now be used by mobile phone users as young as 13 as health officials work to stop the virus’ spread in schools around the state, officials said Monday.

The app, named COVID AlertPa, had previously been limited to people 18 and over. “By expanding the age range, middle- and high-school students will be able to add their phones to the fight and help in contact tracing that occurs in their schools if a positive case is identified,’’ state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said at a virtual news conference.

A parent or legal guardian must approve the minor’s use of the app, she said. So far, more than 627,000 mobile phone users have downloaded it, according to the state.

Some school districts continue to conduct in-person instruction, even though each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties — except for northwestern Pennsylvania’s rural Cameron County, with fewer than 5,000 residents — has passed the threshold of new cases where the state Department of Education recommended fully remote instruction.

Approximately 20% of schools are offering full in-person instruction, 30% are offering some in-person instruction and 50% are fully remote instruction, the Department of Education said Monday.

Pennsylvania is now reporting an average of more than 6,400 new virus cases each day over the last week of November, triple the number from the last week in October. Hospitalizations, deaths and the testing positivity rate are up sharply, as well.

In a Wireless Emergency Alert last Wednesday night, Wolf’s administration urged people to “stay home if possible’’ because “COVID-19 rates are rising & hospitals could soon be at capacity.’’

Two weeks ago, Wolf’s administration mandated people who are traveling to Pennsylvania from another state, as well as Pennsylvania residents who are returning home from out of state, to quarantine for 14 days if they do not test negative for the virus within 72 hours before they arrive.

The state has no plans to enforce that measure, but is asking for voluntary compliance.

Levine on Monday urged people who attended Thanksgiving gatherings to consider getting a test or going into quarantine, and urged people not to travel during December’s upcoming holidays.

Before a vaccine is available, the upcoming winter months, Levine said, look like they will be “the peak time in terms of transmission of COVID-19 for this global pandemic.’’