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Apps / COVID-19

DMV residents will soon be able to opt in to Google and Apple’s mobile contact tracing tool

D.C., Maryland and Virginia will be among the first states to add the tech companies' mobile Exposure Notifications Express functionality. It's a new tool that follows an API release earlier this year.

A screenshot Exposure Notifications Express from Google/Apple. (Screenshot via State of Maryland)

D.C., Maryland and Virginia are among the first several areas adopting a new version of a tool from Apple and Google that provides mobile alerts about potential COVID-19 exposure.

After partnering earlier this year to build out technology to help with contact tracing, Apple and Google are launching a new software framework that helps state public health authorities deploy the functionality within iOS and Android systems, according to The Verge. Exposure Notifications Express is designed so that states don’t have to build their own apps.

App screenshots made an appearance among the slide deck at a press conference from Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland on the state’s COVID-19 response on Tuesday.

“To further enhance our state’s contact tracing efforts, I’m pleased to announce that in collaboration with Apple and Google, Maryland will be one of the first states in the nation to use Exposure Notifications Express, which is a state-of-the art app designed to help public officials more quickly provide notifications for residents about potential COVID-19 exposure,” Hogan said.


To launch the express service, states must opt-in, as Hogan said Maryland is doing. Virginia and D.C. were also listed widely in news reports as additional states that are adopting the new version of the technology. These jurisdictions don’t have to build standalone apps for this service, but must deploy two types of servers, according to Apple’s description of how the app works for developers. A separate server launched this summer by the Association of Public Health Laboratories allows for data interoperability between states, per The Verge.

As for users, they will have to opt-in, as well. After changing their settings in response to a notification, the function will use Bluetooth data and enable notifications if users come into contact with someone who has reported testing positive for the coronavirus. The iOS version is built into iOS 13.7, which was released Tuesday, while Android will be available for users with Android 6.0 or higher.

According to FAQs posted by Apple and Google, the public health authorities set parameters around time and distance that could indicate exposure. Phones work in the background to exchange random IDs that change every 10-20 minutes. If there’s a match between between an ID that indicates a COVID-19 case, a user will get a notification, the Android FAQ states.

With data sharing agreements may come concerns about privacy. In its FAQ, Apple said that the system does not share location data with the user’s device, and the system is only used by public health authorities. Plus, users can turn the function off, they say.

The tool shows a sign of tech companies contributing to the COVID-19 response, and a partnership between two giants of the industry that typically compete continuing to evolve. But as with any app launch, wide adoption will be a key indicator as to whether it can contribute to fighting the virus.

A Washington Post report last month indicated that app-based tracing efforts worldwide were struggling to get the wide uptake necessary to help authorities.

Getting buy-in from the states has been an initial hurdle. For its part, Virginia has already deployed its own exposure notification app using a previously available API from the companies. Called COVIDWISE, about 11% of residents with smartphones have downloaded it, Gov. Ralph Northam said this week. With this latest move, the companies are looking to make it easier to deploy.

Companies: State of Maryland

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