As COVID-19 cases surge, Washington state is getting ready to implement a new tool in its fight against the pandemic: the WA Exposure Notifications app.
The app is set to be released to the public for statewide use on November 30. Students at the University of Washington have been participating in a pilot program since early November.
The app, which is powered by Apple and Google, claims it does not share personal or location information. Such data is kept private by the nature of the app's system itself, which is explained in this video.
The video explains that the app creates a phone's identity by generating a series of random numbers, which changes "every few minutes." Then, the app uses bluetooth technology, pings with other phones, and keeps track of other users that come into close contact.
If someone later tests positive for COVID-19 and logs it into the app, the system notifies all users that came into contact with that person within the previous 14 days.
The app is not meant to replace contact tracing, according to health officials like Dr. Bill Lober, a professor of bio-behavioral nursing and health informatics at the University of Washington.
"We're not trying to do contact tracing. We're simply trying to make it easier for contact tracers and case investigators to do their job," Lober told The Daily.
States across the country are beginning to implement similar tracing apps, including many that have already released the technology for the public to use. (Here's a list of states that are using Apple's Exposure Notification app for COVID-19 contact tracing.)
On Tuesday, the Spokane Regional Health District briefly spoke about the app in it's COVID-19 Recovery Meeting. Spokane County Commissioner and SRHD Board Member Mary Kuney spoke on the importance of informing the public about the app's privacy features.