People in Washington can now use a free anonymous and private smartphone app to learn if they have been exposed to COVID-19.
The app, called WA Notify, will send an alert to iPhones or Android phones if the owner of the phone spent time near another WA Notify user who later tests positive for COVID-19.
Phones with WA Notify use Bluetooth technology to exchange random codes with the phones of other users nearby. This happens without revealing a user’s identity or location.
More than 1 million Washingtonians activated the app in its first four days, accounting for more than 19% of adults in the state, according to the Washington Department of Health.
When someone with the WA Notify app tests positive for COVID-19, the person gets a verification code from a public health department to enter into his or her phone. Once the code has been entered, WA Notify users who were near the infected person within the past 14 days are anonymously alerted so they can get appropriate testing and care and avoid spreading COVID to others.
The alerts contain information about what to do to protect yourself and others, but no information about who tested positive nor when or where the exposure occurred.
WA Notify is different from contact tracing. In contact tracing, public health workers ask an infected person for names of recent close contacts. Since people can’t name strangers they encountered on the street or at a store, the WA Notify technology will alert those strangers — if they use the app — within 24 hours after the code is entered.
“People are understandably concerned these days about being tracked and having their personal information compromised,” said Stefano Tessaro, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. “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,” he said.
The technology was recommended by an oversight committee of security and civil liberties experts, according to the state Department of Health.
Many newer iPhones already have the WA Notify app (enable Exposure Notifications in Settings; then select United States and Washington). For Android phones, download WA Notify from the Google Play store. Participation is entirely voluntary and users can opt-in or out at any time.
The app will work in other states that have enabled the technology. The technology is already in use in states and countries including Colorado, New York, Canada and Germany.
For more information, visit http://www.WANotify.org.