Coronavirus Exposure Notification App Launches In Virginia

Emily Leayman Around Town, Health & Wellness

Via the Patch

By  Emily Leayman

The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDWISE app notifies someone if they’ve been around a person who tested positive.

The Virginia Department of Health has launched an app to notify people of potential contact with confirmed coronavirus cases. The COVIDWISE app sends an alert if a person has been close to a person who tested positive for the virus.

“Virginia is the first state in the nation to use this technology,” said Gov. Ralph Northam at a Wednesday news conference announcing the app.

The COVIDWISE app functions with Apple and Google’s Bluetooth Low Energy technology, using random Bluetooth keys shared between devices within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list the keys associated with positive coronavirus results and checks them against the keys it encountered in the last 14 days. If the time was at least 15 minutes and devices distance was within six feet, the app will send an alert. That notification won’t provide the identity or location of the positive case.

The app doesn’t show everywhere a person who tested positive has been; rather, it only tells if an app user has been in close proximity to a positive case. The governor says the app can help a person determine if they need to be tested or self-quarantine away from others.

“We know people are contagious before they show symptoms,” said Northam. “This can really help us catch new cases early before they spread as far. You get that alert, you can get a test, and then you can quarantine yourself.”

Participation in the app is voluntary, including for those who tested positive. The Virginia Department of Health does not automatically add positive results into the app, but people who tested positive are given a PIN number if they wish to report to the app.

“I want to be clear this app, COVIDWISE, does not track or store your personal information,” said Northam. “It doesn’t track you at all. It doesn’t rely on GPS or your personal information. And while we want everyone to download it, it is voluntary.”

To use COVIDWISE, download the app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play and opt in to the notification system.

The app announcement comes a day after Northam announced Virginia was one of six states in a compact to expand the use of rapid antigen testing. States in the compact are entering discussions with antigen test manufacturers Becton Dickinson and Quidel to buy 500,000 rapid antigen tests per state.

Antigen tests differ from the polymerase chain reaction test by the amount of time the result comes in. While the delay of PCR test results has been an ongoing concern, antigen tests can provide results in 15 to 20 minutes. Like the PCR test, the antigen test is a nasal or throat swab diagnostic test to determine an active coronavirus infection. The Food and Drug Administration considers molecular tests like PCR to be “highly accurate” and antigen tests “usually highly accurate.”

The interstate testing compact with the Rockefeller Foundation also includes Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. It is the first interstate testing compact of its kind.

“We are bringing together this bipartisan, multi-state coalition to combine our purchasing power and get rapid testing supplies to our communities as quickly as possible,” Northam said in a statement. “The people in our six states want to see action, and together, we’re delivering.”

On the Numbers

As of Wednesday, the statewide cumulative numbers stand at 95,049 coronavirus cases, 8,126 hospitalizations, and 2,274 deaths. According to State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver, the 798 new cases reported Wednesday is lower than the 1,000 daily cases seen often in recent weeks. The latest 7-day average of new cases in Virginia was 1,008.

Northam said the statewide 7.2 percent 7-day average of positive tests has been stable for weeks. The eastern region, which saw a rise in the positive tests average in the first half of July, started to see a declining or stable average in the latter half of July. The region’s latest 10-percent average remains above the statewide average; the northwest, northern, central and southwest regions have averages at or near the statewide rate.

Northam implemented additional health restrictions in the Hampton Roads on July 31 and believes it’s too soon to tell how they’re working. However, there haven’t been license suspensions of restaurants since the restrictions took effect. Northam said restaurants are either following the guidelines or corrected violations during the unannounced inspections.

At Northam’s direction, Virginia ABC and other licensing agencies had ramped up enforcement of state health guidelines through unannounced inspections with a focus on eastern and Northern Virginia. Before the additional Hampton Roads restrictions began, the Virginian-Pilot reported several restaurants were shut down due to violations.

The governor said the state is averaging 15,000 to 20,000 tests each day. As of Wednesday, 1,176,180 PCR tests have been completed in Virginia, an increase of 11,665 from Tuesday.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients increased from 1,255 to 1,304 across Virginia on Wednesday, according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. The breakdown of patients by region was: 558 in the eastern region, 245 in the northern region, 218 in the central region, 197 in the southwest region and 86 in the northwest region.

The COVID-19 hospitalizations include 144 on ventilators and 283 in the intensive care units, according to Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association data. Among all hospital patients, ventilator use stands at 21 percent, and ICU occupancy is at 79 percent. The 2019 average for ICU occupancy was 67 percent.

No hospitals report difficulty obtaining personal protective equipment or other medical supplies in the next 72 hours.

Here are the latest case updates for our coverage areas from Tuesday to Wednesday:

  • Alexandria: 2,872 cases, 274 hospitalizations, 60 deaths; increase of five cases and one hospitalization
  • Arlington County: 2,997 cases, 436 hospitalizations, 135 deaths; increase of 24 cases and one death
  • Fairfax County: 16,019 cases, 1,905 hospitalizations, 530 deaths; increase of 32 cases, one hospitalization and two deaths
  • Fairfax City: 82 cases, 11 hospitalizations, seven deaths; no change
  • Falls Church: 59 cases, nine hospitalizations, five deaths; increase of one case
  • Loudoun County: 5,117 cases, 340 hospitalizations, 113 deaths; increase of 24 cases and one hospitalization
  • Manassas: 1,620 cases, 120 hospitalizations, 20 deaths; increase of six cases and two hospitalizations
  • Manassas Park: 505 cases, 50 hospitalizations, seven deaths; increase of three cases
  • Prince William County: 9,139 cases, 794 hospitalizations, 175 deaths; increase of 50 cases, six hospitalizations and two deaths
  • Fredericksburg: 380 cases, 43 hospitalizations, three deaths; increase of nine cases and one death
  • Spotsylvania County: 1,390 cases, 94 hospitalizations, 35 deaths; increase of 15 cases, one hospitalization and one death
  • Stafford County: 1,300 cases, 118 hospitalizations, eight deaths; increase of six cases, one hospitalization and one death