COVID exposure notification app

Washington’s COVID exposure notification app averted cases, saved lives

Washington state’s Bluetooth COVID-19 notification app WA Notify likely prevented about 6,000 cases and may have saved over 100 lives.

A preprint paper by researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health and the Washington State Department of Health conducted a modeling study of the free tool and reported that nearly one third of all smartphone users in the state – more than 2 million users -- activated the WA Notify app, which sends alerts to users if proximity data suggests they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

“When we launched WA Notify back in November, it was a new digital public health tool representing an opportunity to help control COVID-19 in Washington,” said Janet G. Baseman, professor and associate dean at UW’s School of Public Health. “It’s incredibly exciting to now have some preliminary evidence of the value of WA Notify and to have a new tool to add to our public health toolbox for managing pandemics.”

WA Notify uses the Google-Apple protocol in notification apps deployed in many other states.

The study ran from Nov. 30, 2020, to March 31, 2021, which was also the highest peak of COVID-19 cases in the state, according to Health Department officials. During that period, the state experienced nearly 200,000 new cases, more than 8,500 hospitalizations and almost 2,500 deaths. More than 14,000 users who received a positive COVID-19 test used the app to report that result.  WA Notify could then use location data to identify other users who may have been exposed to the COVID-positive individuals and alert them to the risk.

To make the tool broadly available, the Department of Health translated messages into 30 languages for in-app use and more than 36 languages for web pages, social media and other marketing efforts.

Exposure notification tools may continue to play a valuable role in limiting the spread of COVID-19 As new variants emerge and nonessential travel bans are lifted, the researchers said.

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