Washingtonians can now be notified by their smartphones if they have possibly been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The Washington Exposure Notifications, or WA Notify, app for Apple and Android phones was released Monday and as of Thursday, there were more than 950,000 users.
The app runs off of Bluetooth technology from Google and Apple. If someone who is also using the system tests positive, other users who have been within 6 feet of them will receive an anonymous notification.
For this week’s FAQ Friday, we answer reader questions about the app and how it might help slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. We also answer questions about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new quarantine guidelines.
How does the WA Notify app work, and what happens to my data?
WA Notify, which was released in 29 languages, was developed by the state Department of Health (DOH) and the University of Washington. It doesn’t collect or reveal any location or personal user data.
The app is voluntary and can be found in the Google Play store for Android phone users. iPhone users can turn on WA Notify by going to their phone’s settings and clicking on “Exposure Notifications.” Then, users must click “Turn On Exposure Notifications,” select United States then select Washington.
iPhone users may need to check their device’s notification settings to make sure they are on the most recent iPhone firmware and that government alerts are enabled.
When contact tracers working for DOH or local health districts call a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, they will ask the person if they have the app and provide a verification code that the person can enter into the app. From there, the app takes over and will notify people who have been in contact with the infected person within two weeks.
Why are public health officials urging people to use WA Notify?
WA Notify isn’t meant to replace current contact tracing and disease mitigation efforts by local health districts and the state, said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish County Health District, during a news briefing Tuesday.
“Just like wearing masks, physical distancing and keeping gatherings small WA Notify is another tool to help us prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Spitters said.
During a news conference announcing the app’s launch Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee and Health Secretary John Wiesman said modeling showed how effective WA Notify could be in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties.
That modeling suggested that if 15% of residents with smartphones in those counties used the app, said Wiesman, infections could decrease by as much as 11% and deaths could decrease by as much as 15%.
WA Notify has the potential to get people who have been exposed in for testing quickly, said Dr. Matthew Golden, medical director for Public Health – Seattle & King County’s COVID-19 contact tracing program.
“But it can only work if people sign up and then respond to alerts by testing and staying away from others by self-quarantining. Signing up is something we can all do to protect the people we care about and our community,” he said.
Will DOH adopt the CDC’s new quarantine guidelines?
DOH is still recommending a 14-day quarantine, but there are situations when the CDC’s new, shorter quarantine guidelines for people who have been exposed to COVID-19 will apply:
- If a person is showing no symptoms, their quarantine can end after the 10th day.
- When a person in quarantine tests negative for the coronavirus and has no symptoms, they can end quarantine after the seventh day. The test should happen within 48 hours before coming out of quarantine.
People doing a shorter quarantine should continue to monitor their symptoms and wear a mask through day 14 of quarantine because there is still a risk of them spreading the disease, said the state’s Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.
“It is really important that people continue to watch for symptoms through the full 14 days and always make sure to wear their facial coverings around other people,” she said during a Wednesday news briefing.