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Virginia Set To Release COVIDWISE App To Public This Week

Woman looks at app
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Virginia Department of Health has been beta testing an app called COVIDWISE, designed to help control the spread of the novel coronavirus, and plans to release it to the public this week.

“COVIDWISE is for the public who is concerned and wants some way to be told if they have come in contact with someone who tested positive and is at higher risk of potentially contracting COVID themselves,” said VDH spokesperson Julie Grimes.

Grimes says the app does not use GPS to monitor movement, but instead uses Bluetooth technology to communicate between devices. The state contracted Spring ML, out of Northern Virginia, to develop it.

“No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored or transmitted to VDH as part of the app,” wrote Grimes in an email to VPM. “You can delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.”

Participation in the app is voluntary, although health experts say the effectiveness of the technology in helping prevent further spread of the coronavirus hinges on how many download the app. 

“And if enough of the population downloaded this app and enabled it on their phone, we [as individual app users] would have an automated way of figuring out who you [as a COVID-positive person] have been around,” Dr. Danny Avula, director of the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, said in an interview with VPM.

VDH says the app is not being used for contact tracing efforts in Virginia, and that app users can notify others and receive exposure notifications related to positive test results. 

During the contact tracing process, COVID-19 positive residents are provided a PIN that they’d need to enter into the COVIDWISE app. VDH says the PIN is the verification process for ensuring that app users receiving exposure notifications are actually receiving a legitimate notice.

“There is no data collection from that process,” Grimes wrote in an email to VPM. “VDH would not know if that specific person used their PIN to notify others or not.”