Diocese of Portsmouth

    Island worshippers trial coronavirus app

    8 May 2020

    WORSHIPPERS from our churches are among those on the Isle of Wight trialling a new app that aims to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

    Key workers, clergy and lay worshippers from the island are downloading the app to their phones, and collecting valuable data that can track the spread of the virus from person to person.

    The idea is that people's phones automatically register which individuals are in contact with each other. Then if any of those individuals test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms, other app users who they have spent time with will also be alerted, and can also be tested. 

    Downloading the app is entirely voluntary, but the government is calling for as many people as possible on the Isle of Wight to use it. This trial is designed to show how the app can work elsewhere in the country to help tackle the pandemic. You can read a document that answers questions about the app here.

    We followed three people who are using it, to see how they found it, and what difference it is making to their lives:

    The key worker: Colin Potter

    Part-time ambulance driver Colin Potter (pictured above) is also chair of the West Wight Coronavirus Support Group and is married to the team vicar for West Wight. He's downloaded the NHS COVID-19 app from www.covid19.nhs.uk and believes it's important for islanders to do so. He has a background in public engagement and health policy, so had some concerns about data protection and privacy issues - but he feels reassured on those concerns.

    He said: "You will need to put in the first part of your postcode and give certain permissions. When setting it up you need to agree to give ‘location permission’ or the app can’t tell where you are - this would defeat the whole purpose! We give more data to Facebook than this app and this app might actually save lives. So you might say – I’m pretty ‘appy with it!

    "Some people have been concerned about areas of poor phone reception on the island interfering with this app working properly, however it works via bluetooth so this isn’t a problem.

    "As a ‘blue-light’ ambulance driver I’ll obviously come across some COVID-19 patients. It is really important for health and care workers to use the app and have their bluetooth on at all times - except when they are wearing appropriate PPE for their work and come into close proximity with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient. In all other settings, bluetooth should be switched on, including when working without PPE, In communal settings (eg staff rooms), travelling between patients or work appointments, and when off duty. In summary: when you put PPE on, turn Bluetooth off.

    "This is the first version of the app. There are likely to be some teething problems and our feedback will help improve it as it is rolled out further. So doing this is of national importance.

    "We need to act responsibly. Whatever we think about how the situation has been handled in this country, this is the chance for each one of us to step up and play our part. Perhaps everyone needs to remember that we are celebrating the anniversary of VE day today and everything the previous generations did for this country. Now just by taking five minutes to download an app and keeping your bluetooth on you are doing the same.

    "Ultimately this is a great opportunity for the island to lead the way and to help slow the spread of the virus and ultimately save lives."

    The volunteer: Hilary Baldwin

    Hilary, aged 65, is a member of St Mark's and St Edmund's Churches in Wootton, and has been helping to do shopping and deliver food to those who are elderly and isolated in her community. She downloaded the app from the Apple Store onto her phone, and believes it will be useful in her daily life.

    "It's worth making sure you download the right NHS app, as there are several and I initially downloaded the wrong one," she said. "You want the one with the yellow and blue edging. But it's simple enough to download. You just enter the first half of your postcode, and then say yes to certain permissions. You also need to make sure that bluetooth is enabled.

    "I do shopping for quite a few friends who are older and isolating, who I know from church or choirs I sing in. Most of them don't have bank cards or easy access to cash, so they give me cheques that I pay into the bank. Because I tend to go when they need me to, I'm often at the shops three or four days in a row. That means this app will be very useful for me, as I'm out and about, and it will be very helpful for me to know if anyone I've come into contact with develops symptoms.

    "I hope that I never activates, because if I had to be isolated, it would cause problems for those who I help. On the other hand, if I do have symptoms, I don't want to pass anything on to more vulnerable people.

    "I think there will be a reasonable take-up. I'm in a Women's Institute with 50 members and about 25 of us are in a WhatsApp group, so at least those people all have the kind of phones you need to do this." 

    The Rev Samantha Martell with the NHS app

    The priest: the Rev Samantha Martell

    Among those who might find the app useful are clergy, whose role involves them travelling to lead funerals, at gravesides and in crematoria. The Rev Samantha Martell, priest-in-charge of All Saints and St Michael's, Ryde, has downloaded the app to help her know if she comes into contact with anyone who might develop symptoms.

    "I think we've got to do everything we can to get through this, and so if trialling this app helps other people, then it's a good thing," she said. "It gives you peace of mind. If I've been in close proximity with someone at the crematorium and they develop symptoms, I get an automated message and can also get a test done. 

    "it also gives other people peace of mind if I can find out whether I have it within a couple of days. Otherwise I could be taking the virus back out with me to give to other people. Of course, the people I deal with professionally are also at greater risk, as they also are meeting people all the time.

    "It was very easy to install from Google Play, and the permissions it wanted are things I'm happy with. I know they need half of us to sign up on the island to make it a worthwhile trial, and I hope that happens."

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