The Surprising New Way You Can Find Out If You've Been Exposed to COVID
This simple piece of technology that you likely already own could help keep you and others safe.
Medical experts agree that the key to being able to get ahead of the spread of the coronavirus is widespread testing. Not only does letting people know that they have COVID-19 allow them to isolate and avoid infecting others, but it can also help with contact tracing, i.e. identifying close contacts of the patient and instructing them to quarantine. But that process has had a notoriously rocky rollout in the U.S. compared with the rest of the world, as agencies have been understaffed and practices hard to implement. But an announcement from two tech giants—Google and Apple—has the potential to change all of that. Now, all you need is a smartphone to find out if you're been exposed to COVID.
On Sept. 1, Apple and Google announced that they've launched new software that can act as a warning network for anyone exposed to coronavirus called "Exposure Notifications Express." The technology streamlines the contact tracing process, allowing states' health departments to opt in to the technology instead of developing an app or program of their own.
The Bluetooth-based interface works by sensing which phones have been near the phone of a positive patient, not by tracking users' locations. When a person tests posted for COVID, the app can anonymously notify anyone who was in close contact with an infected person, allowing them the opportunity to get tested themselves or quarantine.
The use of smartphones for contact tracing and potential infection alerts has been common practice in many other countries since early in the pandemic. While some saw great successes with them, others, like Norway, saw major issues with data and security breaches after the government-built app began collecting more data than it was intended to. Britain also removed its own state-issued app amid controversy, instead opting for the Apple and Google software, which was more "privacy-preserving," The New York Times reports.
Overall, experts believe that by focusing on proximity to anonymized phones instead of collecting geolocation data, the Google and Apple software solves many of the issues that brought trouble to other apps. "I would say this is an improvement," Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, told The Washington Post.
So far, four states have already signed up to employ the new COVID contact tracing technology from Apple and Google. Read on to find out where. And for more on states in trouble right now, check out These 4 States Should Lock Down Immediately, Harvard Researchers Say.
In a statement, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said: "The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community, while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus." And for more ways to know if you could've been exposed to COVID, check out 3 Easy Ways to Know If You've Been Exposed to Coronavirus.
"Exposure Notifications Express will help to save lives, greatly enhance our contact tracing operation, and advance our statewide COVID-19 recovery," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. "We appreciate our collaboration with Apple and Google, and look forward to launching this state-of-the-art technology in Maryland."
"One of the key tools to fight COVID-19 and slow its spread is right in your pocket," the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services' website on its app reads. "Contact tracing apps quickly notify you if you've likely been exposed allowing you to reduce risk and make informed choices." And for more up-to-date information on COVID and more, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Albeit not a state, the country's capital also joined Virginia, Maryland, and Nevada in adopting the new COVID tracing software from Apple and Google. No further information on D.C.'s app is available yet. And if you're curious about how COVID is affecting patients in the long run, check out The 98 Longest Lasting COVID Symptoms You Need to Know About.