WA Notify on your smartphone is 'latest tool' in fight against pandemic

Governor Jay Inslee said more than 200,000 people in Washington enrolled in WA Notify, the statewide exposure notification system for smartphones.

Inslee is calling it the latest tool in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I was like what is this. It just pops up on my phone. I was reading it and it said Covid exposure notification,” said Phung Nguyen. “I guess I’m anxious and excited to see how that works. If I’m taking my phone grocery shopping and I’ll test it out and see.”

Professor Janet Baseman of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health said the smartphone exposure notification will be able to cover some blind spots that weren’t possible before.

“The person you were standing in line next to at the store or the person you were riding the bus next to, you never would’ve been able to identify that person because you didn’t know their name,” said Baseman. “It’s also a tool of empowerment for people. It’s providing us with notification about our own exposures in a privacy providing way. I’m not relying on anybody else to give me a call or to provide me with this information. It’s right here in my pocket.”

State health officials said the algorithm to determine exposure falls in line with the CDC’s definition of close contact, being within six feet of an individual who is Covid positive for 15 minutes or longer. The proximity is determined by the strength of the Bluetooth signal between smartphones.

The University of Washington helped develop the WA Notify program and ran a soft launch on campus on Nov. 3rd. Since then, more than 3,500 faculty, staff, and students signed onto the pilot program.

“We felt confident letting our partners know at the State that things seemed pretty stable for a much broader launch whenever they were ready,” said Baseman.

Inslee said the tool preserves privacy and complements contact tracing. Before the State pursued the technology, an oversight group of security and civil liberties experts and community members reviewed the program with Apple and Google.

It’s “privacy and security preserving first,” above all else according to Baseman.

The smartphone notification system has been launched in Colorado, Washington DC, Maryland, and Connecticut. Data suggests that if even 15 percent of smartphone users enroll in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties, it would reduce infections by up to 11% and deaths by up to 15%.

State leaders are asking people to give serious thought to activating WA Notify and to have another layer of protection as we try to end the pandemic.

The program is voluntary and can be turned off at any time in your phone settings.