COVID-19 Exposure Notification Apps For The iPhone

Are you familiar with COVID-19 exposure notifications apps for the iPhone? Many states and foreign countries are developing such applications. Here’s a brief introduction to what these apps are and how you can determine if your state or country has developed or is developing its own COVID-19 exposure notification app.

We have all heard the recommendations about how we can reduce our risk of exposure to COVID-19, but we all assume some amount of risk of exposure when we interact with family, friends, neighbors, and unknown people at the grocery store or at our jobs. How would we ever know if we were exposed to the virus? Certainly, if we’d been close to a family member or friend or neighbor who later tested positive for COVID-19, they would notify us. However, the problem is that there’s no current way for us to know if we’ve been exposed to the virus by a stranger. This is where exposure notification apps enter the picture.

Apple and Google teamed up to design and build the foundation for an exposure notification app. The technical term for this foundation is an API (Application Programming Interface). They didn’t build the complete app. Instead, they built a framework that they’ve integrated into the Android and iOS operating systems (starting with iOS 13.5) which can be used by healthcare agencies to build an exposure notification app. Read 9to5Mac’s article to get a detailed explanation of Apple and Google’s system works. Briefly, their system would allow people’s smartphones to exchange anonymous identifier tokens with other smartphones. Then, if a person subsequently tests positive for COVID-19, that person could tap a button in the app to indicate this on their phone. The phone would then notify other people’s phones, using these previously collected identifier tokens. Thus, you could get a notification that you’ve possibly been exposed. This notification might recommend you watch for symptoms or that you go get tested. This system does not track or store information about when or where the exposure occurred. The healthcare authority, who builds the app, also gets to control the parameters that define exposure. I believe the Apple and Google framework suggests that exposure be defined as two smartphones that are close to each other for at least 5 minutes.

Some countries have opted to leverage the framework provided by Apple and Google. Other countries have opted to build their own exposure notification app, from the ground up. In the U.S. no nationwide app is being developed. Instead, it’s being left up to each state to decide if they want to build an app or not. Review this list to see if your country or your state plans to use the framework built by Apple and Google.

Washington State, where I live, indicates that it’s going to build its own app.

[Update November 2020 – On Monday, November 30th Washington State unveiled it’s COVID exposure notification app, named WA Notify, which is built on top of the Google Apple API mentioned above. It’s a free app for Android-based smartphones. If you have an iPhone you can enable it in Settings.]

This Q13Fox article indicates that this app is being built by a partnership between the University of Washington and Microsoft as part of the CovidSafe project. Subsequently, the CovidSafe project has transitioned to being an open source project named CommonCircle built in conjunction with the Brotman Baty Institute.

As of late June 2020, a few countries have released their exposure notification apps based on the Google and Apple framework. Once these applications are available, regardless of whether or not they use the Google and Apple framework, they’ll only be effective if large numbers of citizens have smartphones and choose to opt into using the app. I encourage you to pay attention to news regarding these exposure notification apps.

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