This series of screenshots taken from an iPhone with COVID-19 exposure notifications turned on for Washington state shows some of the information presented to iPhone users who are considering opting in to a new statewide coronavirus exposure notification program that was launched Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

This series of screenshots taken from an iPhone with COVID-19 exposure notifications turned on for Washington state shows some of the information presented to iPhone users who are considering opting in to a new statewide coronavirus exposure notification program that was launched Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington launches statewide COVID-19 notification app

Modeling predicted significant decreases in infections and deaths if at least 15% of people use the app.

Herald staff and Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Washington added a high-tech weapon in the battle against COVID-19 Monday as state health officials braced for a potential surge of new coronavirus infections following Thanksgiving.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the launch of a statewide coronavirus exposure app, joining more than a dozen states enlisting the use of smartphone technology in the ongoing effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

People with iPhones can enable the “exposure notifications” feature already in their phone’s settings, and Android users can download the app, called Washington Exposure Notifications. Users will receive notifications of their possible exposure to someone who tested positive. Use of the app is voluntary, and users can opt out at any time.

At a news conference announcing the app, Inslee said more than 200,000 people had already signed up since it went live Monday morning.

“A lot of people do understand the benefit of this,” Inslee said. “This is not a fail-safe for whether you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.”

Deployment of the app comes as states prepare for the imminent arrival of the initial batch of doses of a vaccine manufactured by Pfizer. Vice President Mike Pence told Inslee and other governors Monday that distribution could begin the week of Dec. 14.

State officials are supposed to let the federal government know by Friday where in Washington the doses should be sent. Washington is anticipating receiving 62,400 doses in the first shipment.

Health officials say roughly 60% to 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated to stop transmission of the virus. Until then, people need to be diligent about wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding gatherings with people outside their immediate household, Inslee said.

“We are going to have to hunker down,” Inslee said. “It will be months before enough people will be vaccinated to break the chain of transmission.”

In Snohomish County, COVID case rates and hospitalizations continue to climb.

As of Monday, the two-week rolling case rate hit 368 new infections per 100,000 residents — surpassing last week’s record high of 300 — according to Snohomish Health District data.

Meanwhile, at least 90 people were in county hospitals due to the virus, with nine requiring ventilators. Weeks ago, the number of hospitalized patients was in the mid-20s.

The health district did not release its weekly report Monday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. It is expected Wednesday.

The statewide launch of the notification app follows a monthlong pilot involving 3,500 participants — including students, faculty and staff — at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“This offers Washingtonians another tool to help control the pandemic,” state Secretary of Health John Wiesman said of the program, which officials are calling WA Notify. “We see it as a nice complement to the case and contact investigation we are doing.”

The app uses Bluetooth wireless technology to detect when someone who downloaded the app has spent time near another app user who later tests positive for the virus. Phones using WA Notify exchange random codes, which officials said are completely anonymous, with no location tracking or exchange of personal information.

When someone tests positive for the virus, a health official will ask them if they have WA Notify and will give them a verification code — which is not tied to their identity — to enter into the app. Once entered, the app can determine users who have been near the person who tested positive and notify them of possible exposure. No information about who may have exposed them or where the exposure occurred is included in the notification. The notification will direct people to a website with information on next steps, including how and where to get tested.

“I think the really important thing we want the public to understand is that WA Notify doesn’t need to know who you are or where you go in order to work,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, the Department of Health’s deputy secretary for COVID response. “The more people that adopt this technology, the more effective it is.”

The app — which can only be used on smartphones, not tablets — is meant to be used to complement contact tracing that is already being done by the state and local health departments.

“This is an anonymous supplement to our contact tracing system, it is not a replacement,” Fehrenbach said.

After a person tests positive for the virus, a contact tracer gets in touch with the person to determine where they have been and who they have been around to ensure that close contacts are notified and told to get tested and self-quarantine.

Officials said the app could help in situations where a person who tests positive doesn’t know the people they were around, for example on a bus. If others on that bus have the app, they will be notified about the potential exposure within 24 hours of the COVID-positive user entering their verification code into their app.

The technology, created by Apple and Google, is in use in more than 30 countries and more than a dozen states in the U.S., including New York, Colorado and Virginia. Washington was among five states with pilot programs testing the technology.

Inslee and Wiesman cited modeling for King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties that predicted decreases in both infections and deaths if at least 15% of people use the app. Washington officials are hoping to exceed that 15% threshold.

For Snohomish County, infections could drop by a percentage within a range of 6.3% to 11.8%, while deaths could be reduced by 8.2% to 15%, according to an abstract of the study. The modeling, done by Oxford, Stanford and Google, found less success in King County, where it predicted a reduction in infections by 3.9% to 5.8% and in deaths by 2.2% to 6.6%.

Health officials said that when thinking through how many people might use WA Notify, it was estimated that Washington’s age 18 and up population is about 5.4 million, of which about 3.6 million are believed to have smartphones. Based on the early interest so far, officials believe that the minimum goal of 540,000 people participating will be exceeded.

Herald reporters Jerry Cornfield and Joseph Thompson, as well as Associated Press reporter Rachel La Corte, contributed to this report.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Everett
Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

Monroe High School (Monroe School District)
Monroe High School teacher accused of sexual misconduct, put on leave

Few details were not available Thursday afternoon. Police were seeking information from the public.

Everett
After 10 months, police make arrest in fatal Everett shooting

Police believe Malik “Capone” Fulson killed Joseph Haderlie, 27, in April 2023 outside an apartment complex on Casino Road.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

Ryan Rafter appears in court for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to life in prison for murder of Everett father

In April 2022, Ryan Rafter, 42, shot Christopher Buck, 29, to death after breaking in to his home to steal drugs.

Marysville
Driver strikes, kills Marysville man who was crossing I-5 in Seattle

The man’s car had broken down near Mercer Street. Troopers reported that he was struck when he tried to cross the freeway.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Darrington woman stabbed, buried 5-year-old daughter

The woman reportedly told investigators she was hearing voices before she killed her young daughter on Valentine’s Day.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.