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Governor Talks Storm Damage, COVID-19 Exposure App

Graphic detailing app features
At a press conference today, Governor Northam announced a new app to facilitate contact tracing efforts. (Screenshot of video by VPM)

*This story was reported by VPM intern Jakob Cordes

Virginia is assessing storm damage from Hurricane Isaias to see if the state qualifies for FEMA assistance, announced Gov. Ralph Northam today. Although it resulted in only one death, Northam said Dominion Energy reported it was one of the top 10 storms in Virginia history for power outages.

Northam also announced that the federal government would continue financial support for the Virginia National Guard’s coronavirus testing initiative. Virginia has about 1,000 cases per day, near its  earlier peak, but new cases seem to have plateaued. The trend of daily cases in the Eastern region, which earlier this month experienced a spike, has also leveled off but remains higher than during the previous wave of infections.

The governor also announced the COVIDWISE app, which will alert users if they’ve been in close proximity with other app users who test positive. The app uses low-energy Bluetooth, not GPS, and does not track or store any personal information. Dr. Norm Oliver said, “The app doesn’t know who you are or where you are.” Instead, it uses the random key system to alert users when someone they’ve been in close contact with voluntarily discloses that they’ve tested positive. The app is available on both Apple and Android devices. “While we want everyone to download it, it is voluntary,” Northam said.

 

Northam, who has been critical of federal leadership in the coronavirus fight, said Virginia is the “first in the nation” to use this type of app. He also announced an effort with six other states to expand rapid antigen testing, to provide a much faster turnaround on coronavirus testing. “I'm talking 15 to 20 minutes, rather than days or weeks,” Northam said. “This is another way that the states are leading America's national response to COVID-19.” The state hopes that rapid turnaround will make contact tracing easier - and that widespread usage of the app will help end the pandemic.

Northam also announced a taskforce that would look for ways to help primary care physicians in Virginia, citing falling revenues and increased workplace stress. He said, “The last thing we need during a pandemic is for our family physician practices to start closing.”