Apple and Google collaborated in the spring of 2020 (long, long ago) to create a “passive” COVID-19 exposure system, which was released on May 20. It is “passive” in that, once it is turned on, you really don’t have to do anything for it to work. But – you do have to turn it on.
It also requires— because this is the United States and instead of one government, we have over 50 — that a given state set up the necessary infrastructure to handle the tracking. The tracking is entirely anonymous, and the only person who gets notified of your exposure is — you.
You can read more about Apple and Google’s work on this innovative system in Wikipedia’s article on Exposure Notification.
- You need an iPhone
- It needs to have a current version of iOS
- You need to turn on Exposure Notifications (go to your iPhone Settings > Exposure Notifications)
There are just a few settings, essentially telling your phone to accept notifications, and to verify that you are in Washington State (or wherever you happen to be).
Virginia was the first state to support Exposure Notifications. Since then, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, the District of Columbia — and Washington State — have added support.
How it works: your phone will use near-field communications (NFC), a very low-power radio signal, to take note of other phones that you come near. If at some future date the owner of one of those other phones reports a COVID-19 exposure, the Exposure Notification system will alert you. All of this is done anonymously, and voluntarily. Obviously, in order for the technology to work, literally millions of people need to turn on the notifications, and then also share that they’ve had a COVID-19 diagnosis, if they do get a positive test.
You can read about Washington’s program, called WA Notify, on the Washington State Department of Health website.
Addendum: WA Notify was announced on Monday, November 30. Within 24 hours, more Washington State residents had opted in to the notification system than any other state. By Friday, December 4, more than a million residents were using the system.
Ideally, notifications should be activated on at least 70% of all mobile phones in the state — Android and iPhone — for peak effectiveness. Ask your friends, neighbors, relatives, coworkers, and others to participate. When it comes to the pandemic, the entire planet is in this together.