VDH to roll out app to help with contact tracing

Posted at 2:29 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 07:32:03-04

NORFOLK, Va. - The Virginia Department of Health will soon be rolling out a smartphone app to help with contact tracing in an effort to control the spread of covid-19.

The app will will be a proximity smart phone app and will help track the movements of people impacted in order to determine who they come into contact with, but health officials stress the app will be optional.

"Any app we choose will have the ability for the person to opt-in or opt-out and not be tracked as they wish," said Mona Bector, the VDH Deputy Commissioner of Administration.

So far, VDH hasn't selected the exact app they'll be using and doesn't expect it'll be ready for at least a few more weeks. It'll be available in the Google and Apple app stores. "We encourage people to use it because it helps protect them and others," said Bector.

Any data that is collected will be stored on a secure government cloud system, Bector said. "We plan to be very transparent because we are trying to help people and not make them fearful of any kind of new technology."

More specifics on the app are expected as it's announced.

Another tool that will be unveiled soon will help people determine if they need to get tested and monitor their symptoms. A new database will also keep a collection of positive cases.

In addition to the technology, VDH is beefing up man power to help with contact tracing. About 1300 people will be hired and will help call the contacts of people who test positive in order to determine if they need to quarantine. VDH is hoping for compliance, but says there are other means if needed.

"If at that point the person is non-compliant, there are measures through law in Virginia, where the Commissioner could issue an order of isolation or quarantine, that would be enforceable," said Marshall Vogt, an Epidemiologist in VDH's Division of Immunization. "We do have processes in place to do that."

Vogt was unable to say whether any active orders are currently in place, but said they've been used in the past for other illnesses. Richmond's Health Director told WTVR they've had to issue at least one formal order of isolation.

Going forward, health officials say these measures are needed as Virginia begins to reopen. "Contact tracing is going to be really, really critical in conjunction with testing and case investigation in order to eliminate covid-19 transmission in Virginia," said Vogt.