Virginians Are Loading the COVIDWISE App. Does It Make a Difference?

by James A. Bacon

Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of citizens who have downloaded the COVIDWISE smart phone app that alerts users when they might have been exposed to the virus, reports Virginia Business.

The state has spent $1.5 million promoting sign-ups. Jeff Stover, executive adviser to the health commissioner, says that downloads have been averaging 2,000 to 5,000 per day. Nearly 900,000 people, 10% of the population, how have the app.

Stover cites a model by Google, Stanford University and Oxford University that predicts if a locality has a 15% app adoption rate, infections can be reduced by about 8% and deaths by 6%.

Could COVIDWISE partially explain the lower rate of spread in Virginia, even as the virus induces panic in other states? According to Statista, Virginia had the 8th lowest rate — 3,303 confirmed cases per 100,000 population — among the 52 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

I’ve downloaded the app, but I’ve never received a notification. Perhaps that’s because my wife and other members of our family have been pretty diligent about socially distancing ourselves. Our social life has gone all to hell, and we’re getting cabin fever… but we’re thinking we might survive COVID-free until we qualify for the vaccine.

Speaking of which, I checked out the New York Times calculator that tells me where I stand in line for the vaccine. I’m behind 118.5 million other people. My wife, who is seven years younger, is behind more than 200 million other people. Looks like I’ll be going on vacation months before she does!

But back to the app… It uses Bluetooth signal strength on your smart phone to know how close and how long you are to someone else with the cell phone app. If someone tests positive for COVID, the health department gives you a PIN, which you enter into the app. The app identifies everyone who was exposed to you within six feet for 15 minutes or longer within 24 hours within the past 14 days.

I suppose that is useful information. You can self-isolate until a COVID test proves positive or negative, reducing the risk for those around you.

What we don’t know is how well the app works. The Virginia Business article provides no data on the number of potential exposures identified so far. If we knew that it had spotted, say, 10,000 close encounters (to pick a number), we’d have the sense that it was making a difference. However, the fact that Stover provided no number to Virginia Business suggests to me that the number is underwhelming.

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12 responses to “Virginians Are Loading the COVIDWISE App. Does It Make a Difference?”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    According to reports I’ve seen, only a few hundred people have actually used Virginia’s app to report a case.

    That’s okay. We’ve known for a long time that “contact tracing” efforts don’t really accomplish anything.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Anonymous is right, the app seems pretty useless. I’ve had the app and I know I’ve been in contact with people who tested positive for COVID. Nothing.

      If NoPlan Northam really wanted to stem the spread he would make reporting positive cases by cell phone number mandatory. He would insist that restaurants look at the app on your phone before seating you. If you show up as positive within the last 14 days or in contact with a positive person you can’t come in unless you have a recent negative test result – also logged onto the app in an immutable manner. Ditto dentists, hairstylists, schools, sporting events, etc.

      NoPlan will abridge freedom of religion, freedom of association and many other core rights. However, he won’t intrude on personal privacy to help stop the spread?

      This is like the nursing home situation. States like Maryland provided detailed nursing home by nursing home data on COVID in those facilities. NoPlan Northam insisted that HIIPA rules prevented that. Let’s see … he can ignore the US Constitution but not HIIPA? No, what he can’t ignore are the political contributions from BigMed in Virginia.

  2. A high percentage of the 3 million of N VA get to work on line.
    Mystery revealed.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I have tried to download the app to my iPhone. I get the message that the app requires iOS of 13.7 or later. I have an older iPhone (6), which is up to date with 12.4.9. I have a notification from Apple that I can upgrade to 12.5, but that still would not get me the app.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      iOS Release 13.7 was primarily a release that enabled easier implementation of COVID tracing apps. The capability is called the “Remote Notification Express” system. A contact tracing app can be built on top of the Remote Notification Express System without really building an app. The app is the Notification Express System. My guess is that the Virginia Covidwise app is just a shell on top of the Apple Notification Express System.

      Virginia could have built the app from scratch but apparently did not. If you can’t load 13.7 you are out of luck.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Thanks for the explanation. I am not that upset about not loading the app.

  4. JuniusQuercus Avatar

    I used the app for a couple of months. I travel a lot all over the state, and went as far as Greensboro to the south and to the Poconos to the north. I never saw anything on the app. So I deleted it during the Thanksgiving holiday.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    The fatal flaw …

    “But for COVIDWISE to really be effective, downloads aren’t the only metric. Virginians also have to update the app if they’ve received a positive test result — a critical part of the process that allows the software to alert contacts who spent 15 minutes or more within six feet of the infected person over the last 14 days.

    Submitting a positive test requires some interaction with local case investigators, who provide users with a six-digit personal identification number once the health department has validated the result (a step that prevents the app from being flooded with false positives). As of Thursday, Stover said 553 people had submitted their PINs and positive results to the app, which has led to a little more than 8,600 likely exposure notifications going out.”

    553 positive test results recorded out of 282,000 actual cases including 3,000 to 4,000 new cases per day.

    As I said, the positives should be recorded in the system by the testing entity whether the patient likes it or not.

  6. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Well, if it works as well as my Weather App…

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    The App is a good example of a poorly designed app.

    Several folks have commented about the “silent” nature of it which is deemed a “good” thing in terms of not being infected but if you hear nothing at all from it, some folks, perhaps more than a few, will wonder
    if it is really working.

    So, if it reported SOME status information about how many have been detected in a day or week or that you were in near contact with X number of others based on phone distance and none had Covid or one or two did but did not stay close enough for long enough to make you suseptible.

    That kind of info would be useful – for instance, if you did go to a more congregate setting and it did show you had a lot more contacts and some were infected… etc..

    In other words, it becomes a tool that helps you make decisions about your own activities.

    And, like other good apps, it would need to have good “settings” so that if you did not want to hear too much, you could tone it down or mute it or decide if you want an audio warning or a text or an email, etc. At the least, it needs to confirm on a periodic basis that it IS running.

    I have it on my phone and I have no idea if it is working and actually have considered removing it also because I simply don’t know if it is working or dead or what.

    And maybe I’m reading it wrong but the Google Play Store seems to indicate only about a thousand have downloaded it.

  8. Atlas Rand Avatar

    I get a weekly update notification from COVIDWISE.

  9. Like LG: crickets, here.

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