On Aug. 5, the Virginia Department of Health announced the debut of Covidwise, a smartphone app that automatically notifies people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. The release makes Virginia the very first U.S. state to use new pandemic technology created by Apple and Google.
The free app, available for download on the iPhone and Android, will help health department officials with contact tracing efforts.
Here’s how it works: Once downloaded, the technology will generate an anonymous token (that changes every 10 to 20 minutes) for your device. Then, all phones in the given location that you are in will exchange the privacy-preserving anonymous tokens via Bluetooth technology. From that moment forward, your phone will download a list of all the anonymous tokens associated with positive COVID-19 cases and check them against the list of anonymous tokens it has encountered in the last 14 days. If a match is found, the app will notify you with further instruction on how to keep you and those around you safe.
Instead of recording someone’s geographic location, the app tracks proximity (close contact within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes) by keeping an encrypted record of when two phones send short-range signals to one another.
For those worried about privacy protection, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press conference that Covidwise “does not track or store your personal information,” and keeps all users completely anonymous.
According to an article from the Associated Press, the technology arrives nearly four months after Google and Apple joined together to create the software for public health agencies in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic. Canada and a number of countries in Europe have already rolled out apps using the same framework. Plus, a number of other states including Alabama, South Carolina, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have expressed interest in the technology.
While installing the app is completely voluntary, public health officials encourage Virginians to download it and help with contact-tracing efforts within the state. For more information on Covidwise, click here.
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