Virginia launches first COVID notification app based on Apple-Google tech

COVIDWISE is the first statewide deployment of the COVID-19 exposure notifications system application programming interface jointly created by Apple and Google.

Virginia is offering residents a COVID-19 exposure notification app that does not rely on personal information or location data but instead uses Bluetooth signals to alert other app users that they’ve been in contact with an infected person.

COVIDWISE was built by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in partnership with development from Spring ML using CARES Act funding. It marks the first statewide deployment of the COVID-19 exposure notifications system application programming interface jointly created by Apple and Google. 

The app works by using Bluetooth beacons to exchange anonymous tokens – or random strings of numbers -- that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will passively and anonymously share these tokens if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. When a phone receives a beacon from a nearby device, it will record and securely store that beacon locally.

Meanwhile, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are notified by VDH and given a six-digit PIN that expires in 48 hours they can use to share their test result with the app. In addition to adding another layer of privacy protection, use of the time-sensitive PIN also prevents malicious actors from uploading fake test results.

Each day, each user’s local COVIDWISE app downloads a list of all keys associated with positive COVID-19 results in Virginia and checks them against the keys from phones it has encountered in the last 14 days. Besides identifying matching keys, the app also estimates the infection risk the using the date, time and the duration of the contact as well as the strength of the Bluetooth signal, which approximates the distance between app users. If a predetermined risk threshold is met, users will be notified through the app that they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and given instructions from the Health Department on next steps.

Use of the app is completely voluntary, and anyone who downloads it can choose whether or not to receive exposure notifications, officials said. Those who test positive for COVID-19 are not required to share their results anonymously through COVIDWISE. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Virginia officials stressed the app’s privacy protections. “Random keys are changing frequently to protect your identity” VDH CIO Suresh Soundararajan said in a virtual press briefing on the app. “No personally identified information is collected, and all the data that's collected … is the Bluetooth signal strength -- and even those are basically encrypted.”

The app will continue to exchange anonymous keys with other COVIDWISE users who have notifications enabled even when they travel outside Virginia, but because positive test results can only be uploaded with the PIN supplied by VDH, the app will much less effective outside of the commonwealth.

According to VDH Director of Health Informatics Jeff Stover, the Association of Public Health Laboratories plans to host a national key server for any state that is using the Apple and Google technology.  States with a state-specific program could switch to that national server, so that tokens indicating positive test result notifications could be shared with other states. 

VDH is still working on integrating the privacy-protecting COVIDWISE exposure notification app with its existing suite of contact tracing programs that manage lab results and active cases as well as the human investigators who are on the phone talking with patients, Soundararajan said. Meanwhile, VDH is strongly recommending those who test positive to download COVIDWISE and use their PIN to upload their token.

Widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features and how it can help reduce the spread of the virus, officials said.

“Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

Everyone with an Android or Apple phone is strongly encouraged to download and use COVIDWISE, officials said. By working together and using every tool at our disposal, we can protect ourselves and our communities.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.