- A new app launched by the Washington State Department of Health and developed in conjunction with the University of Washington seeks to notify users if they have been exposed to COVID-19.
- The app is voluntary and data-secure and is seen as a complementary tool for testing and contact tracing, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
- The app launched Monday as COVID-19 cases remained high in Washington state, with state hospitals nearly running out of capacity, Inslee said at a press conference Monday.
- “If another WA Notify user you’ve been near in the last two weeks later tests positive for COVID-19 and adds their verification code to the app, you’ll get an anonymous notification that you’ve had a possible exposure,” the Washington Department of Health shared on their website.
In Washington state, an app could anonymously tell you if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In a press release on Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Washington Exposure Notifications, also known as WA Notify, an app that will notify users of possible COVID-19 exposures.
The app, which was also discussed at a press conference on Monday, uses Apple and Google Bluetooth technology in order to measure how close Android and iPhone users are. The service is voluntary, but if a user of WA Notify tests positive, they can use the app to notify residents who have been within a 6-foot radius of them.
“When you enable WA Notify, your phone exchanges random, anonymous codes with the phones of people you are near who have also enabled WA Notify,” the Washington Department of Health shared on their website. “If another WA Notify user you’ve been near in the last two weeks later tests positive for COVID-19 and adds their verification code to the app, you’ll get an anonymous notification that you’ve had a possible exposure.”
The WA Department of Health, along with Inslee, added that no personal information about the user can be traced or tracked via the app. The University of Washington and the Washington Department of Health developed the app together.
“Personal information is not recorded, neither is location. You won’t be told where the proximity occurred, no one is recording information as to where either user was, nor are they recording the identity of those phones. So for whatever purpose you want to assure your anonymity, they will be fulfilled,” Inslee said at a news conference on Monday. Inslee also added that information about how to enroll in WA Notify is being translated into more than 30 languages for Washington residents.
The app will be available on the App Store for Apple users and on the Google Play Store for Android users. Specific instructions for enabling notifications as “Government alerts” were laid out on the Washington Department of Health website.
“WA Notify complements the actions Washington residents are already taking, like wearing masks, physical distancing, and keeping gatherings small,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. In a study cited by Washington state officials, researchers focused on three counties in Washington and found that if 15% of the population participated, digital exposure notification systems could reduce infections and deaths by approximately 8% and 6%, respectively.
On Twitter, Inslee posted that 200,000 people had already enrolled in the notification service.
In a statement, Stefano Tessaro, associate professor at the UW Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, addressed user privacy issues.
“People are understandably concerned these days about being tracked and having their personal information compromised,” he said, but claimed that “the technology behind WA Notify has been vetted by security and privacy experts across the world, and it does not collect or store any information that personally identifies its users. I plan to add WA Notify to my phone and I will encourage my friends and family to use it as well.”
The Seattle Times reported that as early as the launch date on Monday, some users received their first notifications. The Washington Department of Health registered 2,345 new COVID-19 cases across the state on November 29, with the number expected to rise after potential Thanksgiving gatherings.
New data from the CDC and the Washington State Department of Health showed that Washingtonians traveled significantly less by air, train, and car for Thanksgiving this year, which Inslee acknowledged as a positive step in beating the curve.