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Virginia becomes first US state to debut COVID-19 tracing app using Apple and Google API

The Exposure Notification API developed by Apple and Google is officially being put to use in the United States. Virginia has become the first U.S. state to offer a COVID-19 contact tracing application using the Apple and Google API, and it’s available to download today from the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android.

The COVIDWISE app comes from the Virginia Department of Health. As we’ve explained in the past, Apple only allows public health agencies like Health Canada to access the Exposure Notification API. That is, not anyone can simply build an app using the API.

By using the Exposure Notification API, the COVIDWISE app uses Bluetooth to exchange random identifiers with nearby phones and subsequently checks against a list of identifiers from people who have reported a positive test.

The Virginia Department of Health explains:

If someone reports to the app that they tested positive, the signals from their app will search for other app users who shared that signal. The BLE signals are date-stamped and the app estimates how close the two devices were based on signal strength. If the timeframe was at least 15 minutes and the estimated distance was within six feet, then the other user receives a notification of a possible exposure. No names! No location!

Furthermore, the Virginia Department of Health emphasizes that widespread adoption of the app is important to help slow the spread of COVID-19:

Your personal use of COVIDWISE will significantly help inform Virginians suspected of having been within close proximity to someone with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. When you download COVIDWISE, you are doing your part to efficiently and effectively help your community stay ahead of any potential resurgent trends in cases. This is vitally important as the business sector, healthcare industry, K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, religious organizations, sporting/recreation activities, and others rely on appropriate interventions to ensure the health of our communities and maintain economic viability.

Finally, privacy is at the forefront of the Exposure Notification API, and the COVIDWISE app adheres to the same strict privacy requirements.

VDH takes your privacy and confidentiality very seriously. This is why we chose to use the Apple and Google BLE framework. No personal data or location tracking occurs within this app. In fact, there is no need for VDH to know where or who you are for COVIDWISE to work. If you are close enough to another app user, the BLE technology will share signals with that user.

As we’ve been tracking in our state-by-state guide, adoption of the Exposure Notification API has been incredibly slow across the United States. The new COVIDWISE app marks the first app to debut based on the technology, and only three other states have publicly signed on to use the API: North Dakota, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Furthermore, Apple yesterday released the fourth developer beta of iOS 14, which brings support for the Exposure Notification API. The feature did not work in the first three developer betas, and it still does not work in the iOS 14 public beta. That being said, we expect a new version of the iOS 14 public beta as soon as this week, which should add support for the Exposure Notification API.

You can download Virginia’s COVIDWISE app from the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android.

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