Virginia is the first state in the U.S. to launch a free smartphone app, developed by Apple and Google to automatically notify people if they may have been exposed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative app that uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology while not relying on personal information or location data.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” Northam said. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

According to the governor’s office, COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. Android and iOS devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are in proximity for at least 15 minutes.

Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the previous 14 days.

If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength, which is used to estimate proximity.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a Virginia Department of Health case investigator and given a unique numeric code.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations.

With nearly 20 million confirmed COVID-19 cases around the globe and more than 160,000 deaths in the U.S., including over 2,000 in Virginia, health officials believe widespread use of COVIDWISE is critical to containing the disease.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result.”

The VDH developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The department says other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk,” Oliver said. “The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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