COVID Smart NY Pilot Test

Help fight the spread of COVID

Join the Columbia University / New York State Contact Tracing Pilot

Enrollment period ends Tuesday September 1st, noon.
To learn more about the study, please view the recorded video of the town hall webinar or the overview slides about the study.

Get paid $50 to test the COVID Alert NY app for 1 week running from August 30 to Sept 6.
This is an IRB-approved research study from Columbia Engineering School, Columbia Business School, and Tech:NYC.


You are eligible to participate if:

  • You are an affiliate of Columbia Engineering or Columbia Business School
  • You are likely to be on campus for all or part of August 30 - September 6, 2020
  • You have an Android (version 6.0 or above) or iPhone (iOS version 13.5 or above)
  • You are 18 or older
  • You are a grad student, researcher, staff, or faculty

Undergraduates are not eligible at this time.

What is the COVID Alert NY app?

This is the official app of New York State, run by the NYS Department of Health side by side with New York’s comprehensive COVID-19 contact tracing effort. Its goal is to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 amongst NY’s diverse communities by:

  1. Alerting you if a sick person spends 10 mins or more within 6 feet of you, because this puts you at a high risk of catching the coronavirus.
  2. Letting you contribute to the health and safety of your community by alerting others if you yourself test positive, WITHOUT REVEALING YOUR IDENTITY TO ANYONE.
  3. Helping you handle contact with a sick person or a positive test result for COVID-19. You can choose to educate yourself using this app or requesting a conversation with one of our experienced Health Advisors, again while fully respecting your privacy.
  4. Keep a private log of your own symptoms.

The app leverages a completely private and secure Bluetooth-based technology that Apple and Google developed in conjunction with MIT. The app’s source code is available to the public and has been vetted extensively by privacy and security experts. The NYS app was developed through Tech:NYC. NYS never sees your location or identity, and no information on the use of this app can be traced back to you (except your phone number if you explicitly share it with us so NYC Health Advisors can call you back).

The app is not publicly released yet. The goal of this study is to leverage the broad expertise of the Columbia community, through close collaboration with Tech:NYC, to help assess the usability and acceptability of the app with study participants.

Please note this study and the NYS app being tested are independent of the contact tracing program that has been deployed by Columbia University and currently in active use. Please continue to follow the university guideline and policy related to public health protection.

Why is my participation important?

As the COVID pandemic continues to evolve in the country, and the risk of a second wave looms above New York, digital contact tracing has been proposed as an effective way of curbing the pandemic.

The app works best if as many people as possible use it. We need your help to find any aspect of the app we can make better to encourage more people to understand and use it.

Columbia Engineering and Columbia Business School are both close-knit communities that will have some in-person contact due to the nature of their work. Thus, it’s a rare opportunity to see how the app will function within a small, well-connected community and how we can use this opportunity to provide feedback for future improvement of the system

What is involved in the study?

The study will take place over a week, starting Sunday, August 30, 2020, in the evening, and ending Sunday, September 6, 2020. If you consent to the study, you will be asked to carry out the following.

On Sunday, August 30, or before you leave your home on Monday, August 31:

  • Install the contact tracing app on your smartphone. Because the app is not deployed yet on app stores, we will email you with specific instructions to install the app on your Android or iOS phone.
  • Take a 30-minute initial survey. We will ask you to perform some tasks on the app (e.g., set the app up to activate contact tracing, use basic functionality of the app) and ask for feedback on the app usability. The survey will also ask you for information about you (e.g., demographics) as well as your current attitudes towards social distancing and mask wearing.
  • While it is preferable to join the study on Sunday, it will be possible to join the study until Tuesday September 1st, noon.

From Monday, August 31 to Saturday, September 5:

  • Keep the app on your smartphone and interact with it as you see fit.
  • You may receive simulated case information or exposure notifications. These are fake, simulated messages sent to you for the purpose of capturing your feedback about the app in these scenarios. Note that the case simulations are random, and are not related to your actual COVID diagnosis, history of COVID diagnosis, your actual COVID exposure risk, or the exposure risk of your close contacts.
  • Make sure to continue to practice social distancing and safety measures in place throughout the research study.

On Sunday, September 6:

  • Take a 30-minute exit survey. We will ask your feedback on the app after interacting with it for 6 days. It will also ask about factors that would motivate you or detract you from using the app in the future.

Who is conducting the study?

Columbia University researchers, led by Prof. Noemie Elhadad, Prof. Lydia Chilton, and Prof. Shih-Fu Chang, together with Tech:NYC are conducting this study. It is approved by the Columbia University's Institutional Review Board (IRB).

If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected].


Enrollment deadline - September 1, 2020.
To learn more about the study, please view the recorded video of the town hall webinar or the overview slides about the study.


Post study panel discussion - September 16, 2020
Designing for Public Safety: What We Learned from UX Design Studies of the NYS Contact Tracing App Faculty from Engineering and Business Schools along with UX designers from Tech: NYC discussed development of the NYS contact tracing app and findings from the week-long pilot study at Columbia.

View the recorded video.