According to Time Magazine, states and institutions alike have introduced contact tracing apps throughout the coronavirus pandemic with mixed results. On December 23rd, Wisconsin joined the fold.
In a COVID-19 press briefing on December 22nd, Governor Tony Evers announced the launch of the newly developed WI Exposure Notification app. The app is designed to more quickly notify Wisconsinites if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
The app was developed through cooperation with Apple and Google, who made it available to the state of Wisconsin for free.
In tracing exposure, it doesn’t save any personal or location related information from users. Instead, it uses Bluetooth, as Governor Evers explained at the briefing.
“The app uses Bluetooth technology to anonymously share Bluetooth signals with other nearby smartphones using the app. So, when an individual tests positive, they can choose to anonymously notify their contacts that they have tested positive. That’s important because it gives others the information they need to be proactive to protect their close contacts and loved one’s by isolating and getting tested themselves,” Evers said.
Users who test positive will receive a text message alerting them of their result. They will then be prompted to anonymously notify anyone they have come into contact with of the new risk to them. Should the user follow this prompt, the app will analyze its Bluetooth data to find other users who were in close proximity to the positive user for longer than 15 minutes. These people will then receive an anonymous notification, warning them that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, and advising them on the proper next steps.
The voluntary app went live December 23rd. It also shares many key features with another app recently announced for the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
The Safer Badgers app serves a similar function for contact tracing. Combined with the requirement that students receive twice weekly testing, it will automatically notify students and staff if they had contact with a user who tested positive for COVID-19.
According to an email from Chancellor Rebecca Blank to the student body, the Safer Badgers app promises the same anonymity as the new statewide app, as it uses similar bluetooth technology. The campus app also comes with the ability to schedule tests, view results, and access additional health services from its interface.
Despite no requirement to use the bluetooth proximity feature, University spokesperson Meredith McGlone is hopeful that students will embrace this function.
“We believe that it is a beneficial feature, and we hope that members of the community will feel comfortable taking advantage of it. I would also say that at the University of Illinois that pioneered this system, they have had a good adoption rate across their campus, so I think we’re cautiously optimistic that the feature will be used here as well,” McGlone said.
The Safer Badgers app will be available for UW Madison students and staff beginning in early January.
The DHS told WORT that they share a similar sense of optimism. They said that since Wisconsinites have been requesting an app that keeps them informed about the spread of the virus, they are confident that many will volunteer to use it.
At the press briefing, Governor Evers explained that this app can only work if Wisconsinites are willing to download it, and take advantage of its features.
“The more people who use the app, the more effective it will be, so keep an eye out for a notification in the coming days to download or enable the app on your device,” Evers said.
The statewide app rolls out today, available on the Google Play Store for Android users, and accessible via the settings app for Apple products. While the statewide app is only for smartphones, leaving individuals without a phone unable to take advantage of the technology, the UW-Madison campus offers individuals without a phone a loaner, or offline alternatives to some of the campus apps’s features.