SALEM, Ore. — Oregon's prolonged effort to develop a coronavirus exposure notification app will be put on "pause" indefinitely, the Oregon Health Authority announced on Tuesday.
OHA said that it decided this week to pause ongoing planning for the Exposure Notification app project, preferring to focus on vaccinations "and other priority efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic." The agency said that it had spent the past six months in communication with local public health officials and other partners, going over the potential benefits and costs of the app.
The agency mentioned the intensive efforts that state and local officials would need to make in order to promote the app and address any gaps in its adoption "across Oregon's diverse communities," in addition to the necessary contact tracing that would need to be needed to make the app effective.
OHA said that it reached the decision to pause the app after consulting with Governor Kate Brown's office.
“Approximately two dozen states have chosen not to deploy smartphone-based apps at this time and instead to rely on other tools to stop the spread of COVID-19," said OHA Public Health director Rachael Banks. "Oregon is focused on building trust with people in communities across the state to get all Oregonians vaccinated and sustain the other COVID-19 prevention practices, such as wearing a mask, staying physically distant and limiting the size and frequency of indoor social get-togethers. These strategies have prevented more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in our state. We’ll continue to prioritize these approaches because they remain our best bet to end the pandemic.”
Governor Brown announced last fall that the state would explore using an Exposure Notification app, and a partial roll-out was expected by January. Instead, there was an accidental roll-out on Apple devices on January 1, with OHA swiftly interceding to take it back down. At that time, the app was still supposed to have an official launch within the near future.
By the beginning of March, Oregon was one of the only states in the western U.S. without a contact tracing app, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported. California's system launched before mid-December of 2020, with Washington starting even earlier.
The news comes amid a steady rise in COVID-19 cases statewide, with OHA reporting 544 new cases and 33 deaths attributed to the virus on Tuesday. At the same time, vaccinations for the virus continue to rise, with state officials reporting 784,476 people fully vaccinated. Nearly 1.3 million people have received at least one dose.
Governor Brown earlier on Tuesday characterized the state's position as "locked in a race between vaccine distribution and the spread of [COVID-19] variants." All Oregonians over the age of 16 will become eligible to receive the vaccine on April 19.