April 21, 2020

NM partners with AI firm for contact-tracing software

Andy Lyman

New Mexico is one of 17 states using technology from an artificial intelligence software firm to help manage contact-tracing and resource distribution related to COVID-19 cases. 

The Frisco, Texas-based company MTX Group builds communication and management platforms for emergency response. The platforms pair messaging applications for mobile devices with artificial intelligence engines to help governments and agencies better respond to disasters. 

The company rolled out its disease monitoring and control application in early March with the state of New York, MTX Group founder and CEO Das Nobel told NM Political Report. That initial release used a messaging and monitoring system to help New York state’s Department of Health keep track of travelers entering the country through the John F. Kennedy International Airport, located in Queens. 

“Initially, New York was getting all of the passengers coming in from different countries, especially China, diverted to the JFK airport. The CDC controlled the screening process [working with] the Department of Health,” Nobel said.

The company rolled out its message and monitoring application in response. It relies on users’ smartphones to collect information about how they are feeling, if they have a fever, or if they are displaying any symptoms of a COVID-19 infection. That information is then sent to a state agency, in real time. The software allows the state government to stay in touch with individuals who may have COVID-19, and allows agencies to better manage contact-tracing. 

“They would load the passengers into the system, they would call them to get consent, and once consent is given, for 14 days those folks would get a text message every day, asking a couple questions [about possible illness and symptoms]. If they have symptoms, the Department of Health would tell them what to do and where to go.” 

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The message and monitoring program is just one of MTX’s solutions for emergency response. So far, 17 states have contracted with the company, including New Mexico. 

“We look at [the platform] as a COVID response system. Different states are using different modules,” Nobel said. “This is a tailor-made communication platform.”

State governments in New York and Massachusetts are using the company’s emergency response management platform in different capacities to address issues related to the pandemic, such as the flood of unemployment claims and emergency child care licensing requirements for childcare facilities that remain open. 

MTX Group is working with “five or six” state agencies in New Mexico, Nobel said, including the governor’s office, the New Mexico Department of Health, the Human Services Department, the Children, Youth and Family Department, and others. 

DOH is leveraging the platform for use in contact-tracing. 

“The Governor’s Office, the Department of Health, their combined effort is to analyze, what does the number look like by counties,” Nobel said. “Our application collaborates with the DOH, it reviews people who are positive or negative, and for those who are positive, the DOH will ask who they have been in contact with, would they like to give consent to be monitored via phone call for 14 days or SMS text message.”

The state is also using the platform to help predict how clusters of cases may grow, and what areas of the state will need more resources, with AI-driven predictive modeling. 

“New Mexico is getting data from different testing centers, in terms of how much inventory or equipment they have, on a daily basis. All the testing centers are required to share that information. We bring all the data in place, and do a prediction using [the state’s model] to guide the authorities to see if they can plan better,” Nobel said. “The idea is to get ahead of it and make sure at the county level, at the hospital-provider level, they all have visibility and support and don’t fall behind with their inventory.”

Nobel said there will be around 8,200 individuals enrolled in the message and monitoring and contact-tracing programs across the different state agencies by the end of the week. He added that the MTX programs, which have been in use for about three weeks now, complement other solutions provided by the CDC that the DOH is using.

After publication, the company said that the number enrolled was much higher, but declined to give an exact number.

Nobel said his company will be bringing more modules online for the state. 

“It’s a continuous project, there are new modules that we are constantly building,” he said. 

DOH did not respond to requests for comment.