That even one of the lowest-population states in the US isn’t able to definitively zero in on a single solution illustrates just how difficult it is for governments to figure out what to do next—even months into the pandemic.
First mover: Before North Dakota began to reopen some services on May 1, the state released an app called Care19.
“This is an opportunity for North Dakotans to be leaders in the worldwide response to covid-19,” Governor Doug Burgum said at the time of release. “Our goal is for at least 50,000 North Dakotans to download the app.”
Six weeks later, 33,000 North Dakotans had done so. It tracks location data for residents to help contact tracing efforts.
A data dilemma: When Apple and Google teamed up to build automatic contact tracing or exposure notification systems across Android and iOS operating systems, they introduced a set of privacy-protecting rules that health authorities must follow in order to use their tech. These include forbidding location tracking, instead forcing health authorities to rely on Bluetooth.
That placed North Dakota’s location-based service in a bind. Now, after lengthy discussions with Apple and Google, North Dakota will release two coronavirus tracing apps—one using location tracking, one using Bluetooth—in a move that is designed to give citizens a choice but could end up splitting the overall effort.