New smartphone-based notification tool alerts state residents of COVID-19 exposure

Screen capture from the video explaining how WA Notify works.

Gov. Jay Inslee, along with the Washington State Department of Health on Monday announced the launch of WA Notify, a notification tool designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. By adding WA Notify to their smartphones, Washington residents will be alerted if they spent time near another WA Notify user who later tests positive for COVID-19.

WA Notify uses privacy-preserving technology jointly developed by Google and Apple and works without collecting or revealing any location or personal data.

“Secure, private and anonymous exposure notification technology is an important tool for Washington,” Inslee said Monday. “We’ve deployed WA Notify in 29 languages so as many Washington residents as possible can protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities. I encourage everyone to start using WA Notify today so we can continue to work together to contain this virus.”

Data models for three counties in Washington found that COVID-19 infections and deaths could be reduced if even a small percentage of people enabled WA Notify. Studies from Oxford University and Stanford also show that the more people who use exposure notification technology, the more effective it is.

“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. “We’re excited to be joining the states already using this safe and secure technology and encourage all Washingtonians to join the effort.”

When voluntarily activated, phones with WA Notify use Bluetooth technology to exchange random codes with the phones of other users they are near. It does this without revealing a user’s identity or location. Users who test positive for COVID-19 can enter a verification code provided by public health into WA Notify, so that other users who have been near them within the last 14 days can be anonymously alerted and take appropriate action.

WA Notify is free and can be enabled in iPhone settings or downloaded as an app from the Google Play Store for Android phones. Users can opt out at any time. Several states including Virginia, New York and Colorado are using this tool. Countries successfully using this technology include Ireland, Canada and Germany.

“People are understandably concerned these days about being tracked and having their personal information compromised,” said Associate Professor Stefano Tessaro with the UW Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “However, 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.”

Before launching WA Notify, Washington state received a recommendation to adopt the technology from an oversight committee which included security and civil liberties experts and community leaders representing communities of color, individuals with disabilities and other communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The committee originally examined an app developed by the University of Washington that informed the technology for the Google Apple solution.

UW contributors to the app include the schools of computer science, medicine, public health and nursing, as well as support from the Brotman Baty Institute. The UW tested WA Notify with students during the month of November to help inform a successful statewide roll-out.

To learn more, visit WANotify.org. Information about WA Notify is available in multiple languages — choose from the full list at WANotify.org/languages. Here’s a video that describes how WA Notify works.

3 Replies to “New smartphone-based notification tool alerts state residents of COVID-19 exposure”

  1. Can’t wait to see this technology be used to profile our interaction habits to provide us with advertising, or be used by law enforcement to surveil without a warrant.

    Ignored

  2. The authors of the computer model analysis in support of the app declare a conflict of interest as employees of an Exposure Notification System provider.

    Users should keep in mind that the PCR test doesn’t mean the individual who tested positive is contagious with COVID-19. That test was intended for laboratory study use, not diagnostic decision-making. It involves taking the sample and repeating test cycles in attempt to detect a particular gene fragment, like using the “enlarge” function on a copy machine and making a copy of the copy to see a dot on the page.

    Some say if it takes 33 cycles, the source material would would not be viable. Dr. Fauci is on record saying, “If you get a cycle threshold of 35 or more that the chances of it being replication competent are miniscule… So I think if someone does come in with a 37…38, even 36, ya gotta say, ya know, it’s just dead nucleotides. Period.” However, the FDA recommends a cycle threshold of 40!

    The New York Times reported that most labs do cycle to a threshold of 40, though some stop at 37. The paper looked at a set of tests from July and found if the threshold were limited to 30 cycles, 85-90% of reported positive cases would have been negative.

    That finding is consistent with initial testing in Washington, where 9 out of 10 tests were negative. However, now that more of us may have been exposed and fought-off the virus naturally, we may be carrying fragments of the virus. With cold and flu season upon us, if we go get tested because we have one or more symptoms, individuals can test “positive” even though they don’t have the active virus.

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  3. “I have a smart phone that tracks everything already….what they want to know my locations? They are going to profile me to send me advertising? they are going to watch me?” Get rid of your smartphone if you are worried about this, they already do all that. This app is not going to add more “power” to track you then your phone is already doing. smh. c’mon people, it just compiles into the app program. That information is already being collected and used by others. I think this is great for some and probably not great for others, just like any app. Wash your hands, wear your mask, we’ll get through this!

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