LOCAL NEWS

DOH enhances COVID contact tracing system ahead of expected at-home test influx

Dec 23, 2021, 8:50 AM | Updated: 11:34 am
contact tracing...
(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

WA Notify is the state’s contact tracing system which uses Bluetooth capability to notify users of possible exposure to COVID-19. New, added functionality will make it all the more effective.

While the Seattle area has robust, accessible COVID-testing facilities, its access to rapid-test kits is limited, with Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08), criticizing the Biden administration in a recent Washington Post opinion editorial for their lack of action in ramping up production of antigen tests (an alternative to the more accurate, but slower PCR COVID test found at locations throughout the state).

UW modelers project 3 billion new COVID-19 cases by February

Days later, President Joe Biden announced that he will invoke The Defense Production Act to manufacture and/or deliver 500 million rapid tests, beginning in January. While criticized as an insufficient number— Schier subsequently noted in a social media post that “we’re going to need hundreds of millions of tests a week” to sufficiently supply roughly 130 million American households— it signals that rapid antigen testing will likely become a standard pandemic mitigation effort in coming months.

Ahead of that trend, WA Notify has expanded the program to allow COVID positive test results verified through at-home, rapid antigen tests.

Previously, COVID positive reports were only verified through codes reported to the state Department of Health (DOH) via laboratories which usually conduct slower, but more reliable “nose swab” PCR tests. WA Notify users then can report their positive test, which will alert other users through phone-to-phone contact facilitated by Bluetooth technology.

Now, WA Notify users who test positive for COVID-19 through an at-home antigen test can request a verification code as well. Instructions for how to do so can be found here.

The positive report is anonymous, and will alert other WA Notify users of the report with whom one has been in contact over the last 14 days.

“Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is dependent upon early notification to close contacts of everyone who tests positive for the virus,” wrote Tao Kwan-Gett, MD, the state’s chief science officer, in a news release. “By including the option to request verification codes in WA Notify for positive at-home tests, more individuals can be notified earlier so they can take the steps to protect themselves and others.”

The state DOH reports that, since the app launched in November 2020, over 2.75 million users or 45% of Washington state’s smartphone users, have enabled the contact tracing service on their phones.

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DOH enhances COVID contact tracing system ahead of expected at-home test influx