Virginia Rolls Out COVID-19 Contact Tracing App

Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced the rollout of a new smartphone app that is designed to help identify individuals who may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The COVIDWISE app is available for download in the Apple’s App Store and at Google Play.

Northam stressed that the app is designed to protect individual privacy, while providing another tool in the effort to curb the spread of the virus.

“No one is tracking you. None of your personal information is going to be saved,” he said of the app.

The app, based on technology developed by Google and Apple at the onset of the pandemic in April, works in the background using the telephone’s Bluetooth. Each phone is assigned a unique key, and the app records the keys of other phones running the app that come in close range.

If a user tests positive for the disease, he or she would have the option to share that information in the app. Then an alert would be sent to other app users who may have been in close contact with the patient during a period when the infection could have spread. Those who receive such notifications will be urged to get tested and self-quarantine.

“This app doesn’t know who you are or where you are. And it will never know that,” State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said, stressing the privacy parameters put in place.

Northam noted that the ability to get timely test results was a key element in the effort to curb the spread. On Tuesday, Virginia joined with six other statesto purchase 3.5 million rapid tests—500,000 per state. Made by Becton Dickinson and Quidel, the tests detect the presence of viral proteins, or antigens, and deliver results in 15-20 minutes. They differ from more common PCR tests, which require samples to be sent to a laboratory for processing. In recent weeks, as cases have spiked in many southern states, processing times for PCR tests have increased from a day or two to a week or more. It is expected that the rapid tests will first be rolled out for use in hospitals, in senior living centers, and by first responders.

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