iOS 13.7 brings contact-tracing update and other new features [Updated]

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iOS 13.7 includes COVID-19 Exposure Notifications without an app.
iOS 13.7 brings optional COVID-19 Exposure Notifications without needing any other application. But only in limited areas.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple released iOS 13.7 on Tuesday, with an update that makes it easier for public health agencies to take advantage of the recently launched COVID-19 Exposure Notifications system.

The software brings other new features, too. The update improves iCloud Drive folder sharing, and adds new Memoji stickers.

The release notes from Apple say, “iOS 13.7 introduces new emoji stickers and iCloud Drive folder sharing from the files app. This update also contains bug fixes and improvements.”

But iOS 13.7 focuses mainly on coronavirus contact tracing

Tuesday’s update offers users the option to join the iOS/Android contact-tracing system that Apple developed with Google.  With iOS 13.7, no third-party app is required to tie into this privacy-minded system.

Apple called the new system Exposure Notifications Express in a statement to 9to5Mac:

“As the next step in our work with public health authorities on Exposure Notifications, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the Exposure Notifications System without the need for them to build and maintain an app. Exposure Notifications Express provides another option for public health authorities to supplement their existing contact tracing operations with technology without compromising on the project’s core tenets of user privacy and security. Existing apps using the Exposure Notification API will be compatible with Exposure Notifications Express, and we are committed to supporting public health authorities that have deployed or are building custom apps.”

How to enable COVID-19 Exposure Notifications

In iOS 13.7, you can easily find Exposure Notifications in the Settings app. (Look for the eye-catching icon: a red dot surrounded by tiny red circles.)

The feature is off by default. To enable it, simply tap Turn on Exposure Notifications. The screen notifies users, “If you turn them on, your public health Authority can notify you of possible exposure to COVID-19.”

If you choose to turn on the feature, iOS 13.7 takes the opportunity to explain more about how COVID-19 Exposure Notifications work.

“Your iPhone can tell you if you may have been exposed to COVID-19,” the screenshot reads. “Your public health authority’s guidelines determine if an exposure is significant enough to notify you and provide next steps.”

(Another screen offers even more detailed information on how Exposure Notifications work, which might help dispel some fear-mongering conspiracy theories about the feature.)

Click Continue to enable Exposure Notifications. Then select your country or region from the list. At this point, it’s likely you will get to a screen that reads, “Exposure Notifications are not currently available.” However, as more government health agencies put compatible systems in place, this will inevitably change.

The good news is, Apple baked in a way to let you know when Exposure Notifications will work in your area.

When will the feature work in your area?

You also can toggle Availability Alerts on or off from within the Exposure Notifications settings. This setting appears to be enabled by default. “Receive a notification if Exposure Notifications are available in your current region,” the text says. ” Your region is based on a general location check from your iPhone.”

That could come in handy when it comes to general awareness, since the feature will reportedly only be available in four U.S. regions today — Virginia, Washington, D.C., Nevada and Maryland — according to Mark Gurman from Bloomberg.

Virginia recently became the first U.S. state to launch an application that uses the COVID-19 Exposure Notifications system developed by Apple and Google. Several other states and countries around world developed their own apps as well.

More about the Apple/Google COVID-19 Exposure Notifications system

Apple launched the coronavirus contact-tracing tool in earlier versions of iOS 13. It enables Bluetooth “chirps” to anonymously track physical interactions between smartphone users, whether iOS or Android.

If an individual finds out they are infected with COVID-19, the system notifies other smartphone users who’ve come into close proximity with them. The opt-in system could help slow the spread of the disease by warning people of potentially hazardous interactions with infected individuals. For instance, if the system determined that you came into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, you could get tested — and quarantine yourself until you got the results.

Earlier iterations didn’t do anything without a separate contract-tracing app. For whatever reason, health agencies around the world have been slow to deploy their own third-party apps.

Apple and Google built the Exposure Notifications system to protect user privacy. As iOS 13.7 tells users, “Your iPhone is not collecting or sharing exposure notification data with anyone. If you turn on Exposure Notifications, information related to your exposures can only be shared with your permission.”