Virginia launches first US COVID-19-tracking app using Apple-Google API


Virginia's COVIDWISE contact-tracing app uses the Exposure Notifications API developed by Apple and Google.
Contact-tracing app is now live.
Photo: Virginia Department of Health

Virginia launched its COVIDWISE contact-tracing app Wednesday, becoming the first state to use Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications API to fight COVID-19.

The app uses Bluetooth Low Energy to anonymously track people’s interactions. Then it notifies users who have likely been exposed to infected individuals so they can take appropriate precautions, such as isolating themselves.

The system uses smartphones to automate the otherwise complicated process of tracing infected people’s interactions. Since some people with the highly contagious coronavirus exhibit no symptoms, contact tracing is an essential component of stopping the disease.

Automated COVID-19 contact tracing

In theory, this tech-enabled contact tracing will help Virginia health authorities get on top of the pandemic’s spread. However, it won’t work without widespread adoption by individuals. The system’s effectiveness relies on a critical mass of individuals’ downloading and activating the COVIDWISE app, and then taking appropriate action in the event they come in contact with an infected person.

Users can download COVIDWISE from the App Store or Google Play. Once users install it and opt in to the notification system, the app will start generating anonymous tokens for their smartphones. These tokens, which cannot be used to identify people or track their location, are changed every 10 to 20 minutes.

Every day, the app will download a list of all the anonymous tokens associated with positive COVID-19 cases. It then checks them against a list of anonymous tokens on the user’s device to see if that person has encountered any infected people in the last 14 days. In the event that there is a match, the app will update the user with public health authority information on “how to keep you and the people around you safe.”

COVID-19-tracking app in Virginia

Apple and Google teamed up to create the contact-tracing API in early April. Their jointly developed Exposure Notifications API made its official debut in late April with iOS 13.5. However, states must develop their own contact-tracing apps that use the Apple/Google tool.

Until now, none have done so. By launching its COVIDWISE app, Virginia becomes the first state to take advantage of the new technology to track the coronavirus. If Virginia’s COVID-19 app works as hoped, other states should take note.



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