Massachusetts residents vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus will be eligible for nearly $7 million in giveaway prizes, including five $1 million prizes and five college scholarships. The Vaxmillions Giveaway program, funded by the state's share of the American Rescue Plan and operated by the Massachusetts Lottery, will begin registration July 1 for drawings later in the year.
"If you're not vaccinated, you can't play," Gov. Charlie Baker said at a State House press conference Tuesday. Winners will be contacted by state officials and will need to provide proof of residency and proof that they received all of their COVID-19 vaccination shots in the Commonwealth.
Baker said he's hopeful the vaccine plan will give another opportunity and reason for people to choose to get vaccinated.
"If you've been sitting on the sidelines and thinking about getting vaccinated, but for whatever reason haven't, here's another reason for you to come forward to protect yourself, your friends, your coworkers and your neighbors by getting vaccinated here in the Commonwealth," he said.
Marking the official end of the state of emergency in Massachusetts, Baker also announced the end of the COVID-19 Command Center that has coordinated the state's response to the virus since last March. The COVID advisory board, the group of experts who have been guiding Baker's decision-making throughout the pandemic, will also wind down, the governor said.
With the spread of COVID-19 slowed to record lows and the end of the pandemic in sight, Massachusetts residents also have a new way to track and be alerted about possible exposure to the virus. Baker announced on Tuesday the new MassNotify program, a smartphone app that communicates with other app users and issues alerts when one of them has tested positive for the coronavirus.
“As we embrace our new normal, MassNotify is a voluntary, free tool to provide additional peace of mind to residents as they return to doing the things they love," Baker wrote in a statement announcing the app.
The app works by using Bluetooth to constantly monitor for and record the proximity of other MassNotify users. When a user reports a positive test result, the app can send alerts to all the app users that have been physically close to the positive case and urge them to get tested themselves.
Baker's office reported that 28 other states and over 35 countries are using similar exposure alert systems as they reopen their economies. In the statement, Baker's team called the app "safe, anonymous, secure and voluntary."
"It will not collect information about who you are, where you go, or with whom you come in contact. Users can maintain privacy while utilizing a COVID-19 awareness tool to help protect themselves and their families," the statement read.
According to the Public Health Department, there were 2,636 reported cases of the virus in the Commonwealth Monday and 138 patients hospitalized. Over 4 million residents have been vaccinated against the virus.
The app was developed in conjunction with Apple and Google, the two tech giants behind the world's leading smartphone operating systems, to work seamlessly on nearly all modern smartphones.
In an article addressing Apple's and Google's tracker plans, ACLU technologists Jay Stanley and Jon Callas wrote that using Bluetooth over location-based technology is preferable from a civil rights standpoint, but that proximity-based apps may not be useful fighting viral spread.
"The bottom line is that there are too few reasons to think that apps will prove more helpful than human memories elicited by experienced contact tracers," Standley and Callas wrote.