North Carolina’s COVID-19 exposure app has 100,000 downloads

In the two weeks since it was launched, North Carolina’s COVID-19 exposure app, SlowCOVIDNC, has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.

But Sam Gibbs, the deputy secretary for technology and operations at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said the app shouldn’t necessarily be judged by the absolute number of North Carolinians who download it.

That’s because the state, he said, is being very specific about who it is marketing the app to. Rather than invest in widespread and expensive marketing to all residents in the state, DHHS is targeting the app toward specific populations.

For example, a large majority of people who have downloaded SlowCOVIDNC are students in the UNC System, community colleges or private universities in the state.

“It is not an overall number (of downloads) we are looking for — we are trying to get concentrations in places that” are at high risk, Gibbs said in a phone interview.

“Take higher ed, for example,” he said. “What was attractive with that is early on the largest spreads were in congregate living. What do colleges have? Dorms. The universities were very keen on getting significant numbers on the app.”

Like many states, North Carolina is using technology created by Apple and Google to create its COVID-19 exposure app. Virginia became the first state to launch one in August, and by September more than 500,000 people had downloaded it, according to WVTF, a public radio station in Roanoke, Virginia.

Virginia took a more blanket marketing approach than North Carolina’s targeted one, Gibbs said. As North Carolina’s schools try to return to on-campus instruction next semester, the app could become an important tool, Gibbs added, noting Eastern Carolina University plans to use it heavily.

North Carolina launched its app on Sept. 22, making it available for free