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Washington State’s Exposure Notification Tool Averts COVID-19 Cases

Washington researchers and the Washington State Department of Health conducted a modelling study of the free tool. They developed secure and anonymous smartphone-based exposure notification tools that aim to reduce COVID-19 transmission and supplement traditional case investigation and contact tracing systems. The study found that nearly one-third of all smartphone users in the state activated the WA Notify app, which sends alerts to users if proximity data suggests they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

When WA Notify was launched last year, it was a new digital public health tool representing an opportunity to help control COVID-19 in Washington. Currently, preliminary evidence shows the value of WA Notif and has a new tool to add to our public health toolbox for managing pandemics.

Due to the constraints of privacy preservation and anonymised data, aggregate metrics and disparate data sources were utilised to estimate the number of COVID-19 cases averted based on a modelling approach. The researchers utilise the following parameters: number of notifications generated; the probability that a notified individual goes on to become a case; expected fraction of transmissions preventable by strict quarantine after notification; actual adherence to quarantine; and expected size of the full transmission chain if a contact had not been notified.

The study ran from Nov. 30, 2020, to March 31, 2021, which was also the highest peak of COVID-19 cases in the state, according to Health Department officials. During that period, the state experienced nearly 200,000 new cases, more than 8,500 hospitalizations and almost 2,500 deaths. More than 14,000 users who received a positive COVID-19 test used the app to report that result.

The model shows that 6240 cases were averted statewide during the first four months of its implementation. Based on an estimated COVID-19 case fatality of 1.4%, WA Notify saved 30-120 lives during the study period.

WA Notify could then use location data to identify other users who may have been exposed to the COVID-positive individuals and alert them to the risk. To make the tool broadly available, the Department of Health translated messages into 30 languages for in-app use and more than 36 languages for web pages, social media and other marketing efforts.

The findings demonstrate the potential value of exposure notification tools as a novel public health intervention to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. As new variants emerge and non-essential travel bans are lifted, exposure notification tools may continue to play a valuable role in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19 infections, U.S. researchers have been creating many tools to mitigate the crisis. As reported by OpenGov Asia, U.S. researchers have developed an interactive web application that illustrates the connections between human mobility, government policies, and cases of COVID-19. The app aims to better understand the relationships between human mobility, government policies and cases of COVID-19.

The app was built with data from three independent sources:  a map, which provides data on human movement via walking, driving and public transportation; COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, which provides data on government policies implemented during the pandemic; and global cases of COVID-19. Users can select a specific state or county in the U.S. as well as another country and see how mobility and COVID-19 cases changed over time or in response to government policies or social circumstances.

Although the application is specific to the pandemic, the framework could be modified rather easily to create a similar application for natural disasters as long as appropriate data sets are available. Understanding historic mobility patterns are needed for policymakers to make informed decisions regarding transportation systems and other areas both under normal circumstances and in response to extreme events like a pandemic or a natural disaster.


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