News & Politics

Virginia Is the First State in the Nation to Offer Contact Tracing Through an App

COVIDWISE will tell you if you've been within six feet someone who's been diagnosed with Covid-19.

Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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The Virginia Department of Health has rolled out an app that notifies users if they’ve come into contact with a Covid-positive individual. COVIDWISE will help health department officials with their contact tracing efforts, helping eliminate reliance on positive-individuals’ lists of personal contacts.

Using technology from Apple and Google, the app generates anonymous keys unique to each user. If two people who have downloaded the app are near each other for a period of time long enough to risk exposure (per CDC guidelines, within six feet for more than 15 minutes), the phones automatically exchange these keys, which will be stored in the app for 14 days. If an individual tests positive for Covid-19, anyone with their keys in their app will be notified they’ve been exposed to a positive contact.

Individuals using the app will remain anonymous. Notified contacts won’t be told which individual they interacted with tested positive, and the anonymous keys will regenerate every ten to 20 minutes to further secure anonymity. The app doesn’t track user location and instead runs in the background and uses Bluetooth to transfer keys between individuals with the app. Though installing the app is completely voluntary, health officials encourage Virginians to download it to help with contact tracing efforts.

The app will work outside of Virginia, but only users verified by the Virginia health department will be able to input a Covid-positive status. Per the Virginia Department of Health website, “There have been discussions regarding a federal database for positive diagnosis verification which would greatly simplify interoperability of exposure notification apps between states. It is not currently certain when this will be available.”

Similar apps have been used with success in a number of Asian and European countries, and though Virginia is the first in the United States to implement such technology, other states like Alabama, North Dakota, and South Carolina will likely follow suit.

More information about COVIDWISE can be found at www.vdh.virginia.gov/covidwise.

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Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.

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