US Covid App
The first COVID-19 contact tracing app in the US has launched in the state of Virginia. COVIDWISE is built on Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications system tools.
The free app is available for Android and iOS smartphones and passively uses Bluetooth. COVIDWISE anonymously determines whether an individual has come into contact with another user who has a positive COVID-19 diagnosis within the last 14 days. This is less invasive than GPS tracking and if it notifies a user that a contact potentially has COVID-19, it then provides guidance from the state’s Department of Health on what to do next – and how to minimise the risk for further spread.
The U.S. is moving closer to the 5 million total cumulative case mark for COVID-19. The country is under new pressure as schools re-open and isolation restrictions are lifted. The app is privacy-focused and aims to support public health authorities in tracking down potential new cases and limiting new exposures.
Download and use of the app are voluntary, and COVIDWISE may be deleted at any time. Some experts have cast doubt about its effectiveness of these tools, as contact tracing apps can only be effective when adopted by a substantial portion of a population. However, with 19 other states set to follow Virginia’s lead the likelihood that there will be sufficient qualitative data to use and inform public health decisions is good.
The predicted scramble to build these tools has not materialised and the decision to use Bluetooth comes with persistent discussion about security. But when the infection rate has not flattened and with widespread concerns about the economic devastation that lies in COVID-19s wake, decisions need to be made.
Agile, robust decision making depends on the quality of data and crowd-sourced data from track and trace apps such as COVIDWISE will play a significant part in how we monitor outbreaks, prevent them and make decisions about our communities.
Public hesitation has to be addressed, but the first step is to develop the technology. Some privacy concerns are clearly addressed by the bluetooth approach – the logging of very fine-grained GPS data can be avoided, but the relationship mapping still remains highly personal data. The balance must be to derive useful public health information whilst collecting the minimum data to make this work.
Tech companies and government agencies should not be tempted to use this for commercial gain, or there will be a strong backlash against these tools and even potentially increase numbers of those who are “anti-vaccine”.
Source data: MobiHealth News, USA