DC launching new coronavirus exposure app

The District is launching a new smartphone app to assist in contact tracing as it continues the fight against coronavirus — but it won’t work with a similar tool for Virginia, and Maryland doesn’t have one yet.

Residents can get exposure alerts from DC CAN starting Tuesday.

D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said at a news conference Monday that users’ phones — if they opt in — will send out “beacons” to other nearby phones using a randomly generated ID that changes every 10-20 minutes.

“Each phone will store the beacons it receives securely on the device,” Nesbitt said. “Once per day, the exposure notification system will download a list of keys belonging to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and reported their diagnosis through DC CAN. Each device will check the list of keys it is stored against the downloaded keys.”

“And, if there is a match, the user will be notified and advised on next steps from D.C. Health,” Nesbitt added.

D.C. officials provided an example of what an exposure notification will look like:

Nesbitt added that the system isn’t based on area codes but rather the region users select when they opt in.

There is a major caveat to the new app: It doesn’t work with Virginia’s exposure notification system, and Maryland doesn’t have its own system yet.

“Maryland does not yet have a tool at all. We are optimistic that once they develop a tool, it will be interoperable,” Nesbitt said. “Virginia’s tool that they currently have is not yet interoperable, but there are solutions that can be developed.”

“(Virginia has) an app that was developed prior to this technology that is developed to allow all states who use the same tool to be interoperable. But there is a way that technology can be developed to make the different tools interoperable with each other,” she said.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

The system won’t live on users’ phones forever.

“This technology was created for the sole purpose of helping to stop the spread of COVID-19,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday. “The exposure notification system will be disabled once the pandemic reaches a point that no longer necessitates the use of this technology.”

The app, developed by D.C. Health, Apple and Google, will be available for both iPhone and Android users.

On the iPhone, it’s a matter of turning the push notifications on for DC CAN. Android users will be prompted to install the DC CAN app from the Google Play Store.

Officials said the system does not share location data from the user’s device. The identity of people who test positive is not shared either, according to officials.

More information can be found on D.C.’s coronavirus site.

DC coronavirus numbers

D.C. reported 25 new coronavirus cases Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 16,395.

No additional COVID-19 deaths were reported. So far, 641 District residents have lost their lives to the virus.

Track the District’s data online.

Below are maps of cases by ward and neighborhood.

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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