Washington launches WA Notify, a free COVID-19 alert app for smartphones

Technology uses bluetooth, private codes to alert people when they've been near another WA Notify user who tests positive for coronavirus

Gov. Jay Inslee today announced the launch of a new app, WA Notify, meant to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state. 

People who choose to download the free app — or activate it on their iPhones — will receive an alert if they have been near another WA Notify app user who tests positive for COVID-19. 

The app employs technology developed by Google and Apple that exchanges anonymous codes, does not track personal data and maintains high levels of privacy for the users, Inslee said Monday. 

“This is a simple, elegant app that maintains privacy and anonymity,” Inslee said during a press conference on Monday, Nov. 30. “The app is available in multiple languages. It is anonymous. Data is not stored, not recorded. No locations are recorded. You won’t be told where (the possible exposure) occurred.”

Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman said the WA Notify app is another tool Washingtonians can use to help collectively reduce COVID-19 rates in the state. 

“WA Notify complements the actions Washington residents are already taking, like wearing masks, physical distancing and keeping gatherings small,” Wiesman said.

The free app can be activated on iPhones by enabling Washington state in the phone’s settings, under “Exposure Notifications,” or downloaded as an app from the Google Play Store for Android phones. 

Washington joins a handful of states, including Colorado, New York and Virginia, and countries such as Canada, Ireland and Germany, that have already been using the notification app. 

Wiesman said Monday that state leaders wanted to make sure the app would ensure people’s privacy and be available to the widest range of people possible before launching WA Notify. 

“Privacy was important to us,” Wiesman said. “We were clear that we wanted to examine the technology … and have this be available to as many people as we could when it launched.”
The WA Notify app is available in 29 languages, which Wiesman said is the highest number released on the app so far. 

The University of Washington agreed to test the WA Notify app among its students in November to help inform the statewide launch. 

So far, more than 200,000 Washington residents have downloaded or activated the app on their smartphones.
Inslee said Monday that if 15 percent of residents use the app, Washington could see an 11-percent reduction in COVID-19 infections and a 15-percent decrease in COVID-19 related deaths. 

“It’s a good day in this ongoing effort,” Inslee said. “As difficult as this pandemic has been, we are not powerless. We have control over our own destiny, and now we have more tools. If people can use this WA Notify app, that’s power. If we can continue to reduce our exposure to social situations, that’s power.” 

Inslee added that he expects vaccines will be distributed to the state’s highest-risk populations, including long-term care facility residents with underlying health problems and health care workers who regularly care for COVID-19 patients, in December, but cautioned it will still be several months until there are enough vaccine doses available, and enough people adequately vaccinated, for Washingtonians to let their guards down. 

Wiesman added that the state will likely need to have between 60 and 70 percent of residents vaccinated to stop COVID-19 outbreaks in Washington and to stop the majority of the disease’s spread. 

“It will be months until enough people are vaccinated and until we can break the chain of transmission, so we will still need to hunker down,” Inslee said Monday, adding that he has heard many Republicans talking about trying to “achieve herd immunity” with COVID-19 and cautioning Washingtonians to reject this line of thinking. 

“Herd immunity means hundreds of thousands more deaths,” Inslee said. “That siren song is very dangerous … and we’re not going to allow that.” 

To lean more about WA Notify, visit WANotify.org, or watch a video showing how the app works at bit.ly/3fT2fBZ