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Why Your iPhone Says “COVID-19 Exposure Notifications Are Available”

An illustration of a COVID-19 exposure bubble.

Chances are you will soon see a pop-up ‘COVID-19 Exposure Notifications Are Available’ on your iPhone, if you haven’t seen it yet. Apple and Google launched this feature last year, so why are you being asked now?

Some local authorities are slower than others

If you̵

7;re wondering why you’re seeing this post now, it’s because the contacts tracking feature relies on apps from your local health authority that take advantage of it. In the US, this means that your state government will generally need to roll out its own contacts tracing app. Not all state governments have done this yet.

For example, California rolled out its contact tracking app, CA Notify, in December 2020. Oregon plans to roll out its contacts tracking app sometime before April. [2021]- “hopefully,” said a government representative. Other states may not even plan to release apps that take advantage of this.

You will see this notification when your local health authority rolls out the app, if not already done. If you’re traveling between states, you may see a notification when you arrive at a location that also has such an app.

The same goes for other countries: if a local health authority has made its app available, you should see this popup.

The COVID-19 exposure reports are available on an iPhone.

What are COVID-19 Exposure Notifications?

Apple and Google teamed up to create a digital framework for tracking contacts. Apple’s solution was rolled out on iPhones in May 2020.

Contact tracking is not enabled by default and will not do anything unless you choose to enable it. It’s also just an API that your local public health agency, such as your government health service, can use. If your local public health authority has not released an app that uses the API, there is no way to use it. (In the future, Apple and Google may integrate it directly into iOS and Android so it can work without the app.)

Basically, when you enable this feature, your iPhone will send a ping over Bluetooth periodically. This includes a random identifier, but that random identifier changes every 10 to 20 minutes. Other devices with exposure notifications enabled will remember the list of IDs sent by nearby devices.

When someone with the installed app tests positive for COVID-19, they can report the positive test. Your iPhone downloads a list of keys for devices that their owners are reported to have tested positive and compares your local list of IDs against that database. If there is a match, it means that you have been physically close to someone who later tested positive, and that you are getting advice on what to do. For example, you may receive a recommendation to get tested.

Overall, this is designed in a very privacy-protecting way. Government agencies don’t get a log of everyone’s movements from these apps, and that includes Apple and Google.

Without this privacy-protecting contact tracking system, some governments would have been set up to roll out contact tracking systems that track people’s movements with GPS and store them in centralized databases. Apple and Google do not allow that. They demand that governments use this better system.

RELATED: How your iPhone’s new COVID-19 exposure alerts work

What to do if you see the warning

If you want the notifications, tap “Continue” and you will be prompted to install the app from your local public health agency. This popup acts as a warning that the public health authority in your area has made an app available, otherwise many people wouldn’t realize they had the option.

It is of course not required and you are free to tap “Not now” and decline the offer. The choice is yours, but your local public health authority will likely recommend installing the app.

You can choose to activate exposure notifications in the future by going to Settings> Exposure notifications> Enable exposure notifications on your iPhone.


Turn off availability alerts

If you don’t want to see availability alerts on your iPhone when a COVID-19 tracking app is available in your area, go to Settings> Exposure Alerts. Here you can disable the “Availability alerts” option.

The Availability Alerts setting for COVID-19 exposure alerts on the iPhone.

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