(TNS) – Millions of home COVID-19 tests are expected to be distributed over the next few days and head for anxious Washingtonians, just as the number of positive cases in the state hits record highs. Yes, vaccinations, the use of masks and testing are key to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, but so is digital contact tracing.
To help each other out, don’t overlook the state’s exposure notification app, WA Notify, as a valuable tool in the fight against the pandemic. Already, around 3 million people – about half of all smartphone users in the state – have activated the app, which alerts users if they may have been exposed to the virus. About 2,000 new users are added every week, health officials said.
Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the app depends not only on the number of people who use it, but also on those who wish to anonymously report positive cases. While telling your phone that you have COVID would hardly be expected to be a priority after a positive diagnosis, it can be a vital contribution to helping protect public health.
An early study from the University of Washington and modeling from Oxford, Stanford, and Google – which along with Apple helped develop the technology used by the app – show the benefits of using WA Notify. The UW study found that the app has likely prevented more than 5,000 cases of COVID four months after its launch in November 2020, while modeling indicates that while 15% of the population of King Counties, Pierce and Snohomish was using the app, it could reduce infections by around 8% and deaths by around 6%.
Clear data on how many times the app has alerted users or how many people have been alerted remains unclear, in large part because of the privacy protections built into the system, said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary to Washington Health for COVID-19 response.
The app uses Bluetooth technology to determine proximity to other users. This information is stored in the phone itself and does not include any personal or location data. Anyone tested by a lab should receive an activation code that they can then use to anonymously notify other users they may have been close to. If the positive result is from a home test, users can request a code from the app.
“The trade-off there means we don’t have the kind of valuation data that a lot of people would like,” Fehrenbach said. “But we keep hearing anecdotes from people getting tested because they’ve been notified of exposure or are taking other steps to protect themselves and others, and that’s really the power. of this tool. “
Washington can be proud to take advantage of this technology – over 20 states don’t use it at all, and WA Notify is at the forefront of allowing home test reports – but one tool is only powerful. if used.
If you haven’t activated the app, do so today. And if your test is positive, do your part and report it.
© 2022 The Seattle Times, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.