Aug 5, 2020 - Health

Virginia launches contact tracing app using specs from Apple and Google

Illustration of a crowd of people with a glowing line identifying positive cases of coronavirus 
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Virginia's health department released a coronavirus contact tracing app on Wednesday that relies on a Bluetooth-based system designed by Apple and Google.

Why it matters: Adoption of COVID-19 tracing tech in the U.S. has been limited compared to other countries — and tracking who has possibly been exposed to the virus (and promptly notifying them) is crucial to stem the spread.

How it works: The app logs when smartphone users come into close contact via Bluetooth.

  • If two people download the app and are in proximity long enough to risk spreading the coronavirus, their phones log that contact.
  • Virginia's health department says user location is never collected in the app. Distance between two people is calculated by the strength of the Bluetooth signal between their devices instead of GPS.
  • If a person tests positive, the Virginia Department of Health will provide a PIN number to report that result on the app.
  • Once someone logs in the app that they have tested positive, 14 days worth of their contact with other users is shared to the system.

The big picture: Apple and Google unveiled their system in early April, and although the companies say that 20 U.S. states and territories are "exploring" apps, Virginia is reportedly one of the first states with fully deployed results.

Our thought bubble via Axios' Ashley Gold: This contact tracing app will only work if people download it and are willing to share their test results. Otherwise, its impact will be limited.

Go deeper: Americans are on board with contact tracing as long as it doesn't involve cellphone data

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