1.9 million Virginians signed up for statewide COVID-19 exposure notification system

COVIDWise uses Bluetooth technology
Posted at 4:31 AM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 11:59:11-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - The Virginia statewide notification system COVIDWise has been working for months to tell people if they've been exposed to COVID-19.

News 3 asked the Virginia Health Department how the program is going and how they are protecting peoples' privacy.

News 3 also spoke to Gregg Tennefoss, who is an technology expert and professor at Tidewater Community College.

He said he is also one of the almost 1.9 million people in the state of Virginia who signed up for the app.

"I think it's a good idea, and I think everybody should be on it," said Tennefoss.

Gov. Northam previously sent out information about the program that said that COVIDWise is "an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app."

Health department officials said the program is anonymous and explained that your phone and the phones around you work in the background to exchange what are called "tokens" through Bluetooth technology. Your phone will get a notification if you were near someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

They said the notification will come through if the person was holding their phone and standing within about six feet of the other person for at least 15 minutes in a 24-hour period. It uses Bluetooth low-energy signals.

Health officials say Google and Apple created the framework for the app so states could use it. In Virginia, they say they built on what was provided.

Virginia was the first state to launch it back in August.

Stover said privacy was a major concern.

"This is an anonymous process. We don't collect personally identifiable information, none of it. If you download COVIDWise, you will find that we don't ask for anything from you and we don't collect location," said Stover.

Tennefoss said he does not see any privacy concerns with COVIDWise.

"This was written by a partnership between Google and Apple. That's good, because I think that if either one tried to do anything sneaky like data collection, the other one be screaming," said Stover.

The health department said they’re happy with the number of users but would like more people to use it.

"We're continuing to push to have as many Virginia to using this and protecting their health and the health of their their neighbors and colleagues as possible," said Stover.

Click here for more information on COVIDWise.

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