COVIDWISE – Frequently Asked Questions

Home  >>  Frequently Asked Question

Frequently Asked Questions

What is COVIDWISE?

COVIDWISE is the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) COVID-19 Exposure Notifications app to facilitate contact tracing in response to COVID-19. Contact tracing is a technique used by public health authorities to contact and give guidance to anyone who may have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. This technique will be an essential part of transitioning back to regular daily life while managing the risk of further outbreaks.

How can Exposure Notifications Help?

Traditional methods of contact tracing are critical to containing the spread of infection, but require an infected person to list specific people they may have exposed and places they have been. Technology can support and augment these efforts by allowing public health authorities to notify a larger number of people who the infected person may not have known or remembered to list. This starts with members of the population enabling Exposure Notifications on their smartphones, which enables COVIDWISE to send you a notification if you’ve been in close contact with another COVIDWISE user who later tests positive for COVID-19.

Follow this link to learn more.

How does the app work?

COVIDWISE is designed to anonymously notify users when they have been in contact with other users that have tested positive for COVID-19.

The app is built on Apple and Google’s Exposure Notifications system that allows smartphones to exchange anonymous keys over Bluetooth. These anonymous keys change daily to protect your identity. Each phone shares its own daily anonymous key and stores the anonymous keys of nearby devices locally (i.e. on the user’s phone) for 14 days.

When people who have downloaded the app are near each other for a period of time determined by VDH to represent a risk (a period which is updated based on the latest research), their phones exchange anonymous keys, and each saves the anonymous key of the other phone. Alongside the anonymous key, phones estimate the contact risk of an exchange using the date, time, and duration of the contact, as well as the strength of the Bluetooth signal (to approximate distance). Contact risk is used to determine if a user is notified of a potential exposure and is not shared with any user.

Do I have to use the app?

No. Download and use of the app are 100% voluntary and you may choose to install and uninstall the app at any time. However, we strongly encourage your participation as it will help improve the overall effectiveness of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Does the app work outside of the state of Virginia? Is it compatible with other states’ Exposure Notifications apps?

The app will exchange anonymous tokens with other COVIDWISE users and users of other states’ Google Apple Exposure Notification apps that are using the National Key Server. You can see the current list of National Key Server states. Washington DC is also using the National Key Server.

Where can I download COVIDWISE?

COVIDWISE can be downloaded from the App Store for iPhone users and the Google Play Store for Android users. Please note that not all devices are supported.

I have been vaccinated and don’t have any symptoms. Is there any reason for me to continue useing COVIDWISE?

Fully vaccinated? COVIDWISE is still a core prevention tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia. By downloading the free Exposure Notifications app or turning on Exposure Notifications on your iPhone, you’re proactively taking the steps necessary to protect those you’ve been in close contact with who aren’t fully vaccinated. In addition, you have direct access to our COVID-19 call center, useful resources, and FAQs.

 

I got an exposure notification. How can I tell when I was exposed?

COVIDWISE will provide an estimated number of days since your last possible exposure. Exposures are determined by close contact of 15 minutes or more within a 24 hour period. This is used to estimate the number of days since a possible exposure. COVIDWISE does not provide the exact time of a possible exposure.

I received a push notification related to Exposure Notifications but my Exposures tab says “No Past Exposures.” What was the meaning of that notification?

If your app's Exposure screen still says "No Exposures Detected" then it is likely that the notification you saw was a weekly summary notification. This goes out weekly with text that says (on Android as an example), "Your device identified # potential exposures this week, and shared them with COVIDWISE." The # in that message would be replaced with the number of anonymous tokens from users who tested positive, regardless of whether they met the duration and distance thresholds VDH uses to consider a significant exposure. Your app would still say "No Exposures Detected" if the Bluetooth signal strength of those matched keys didn't look like they were within six feet of you and/or the time you spent nearby them didn’t add up to greater than 15 minutes of exposure over a 24-hour period. So according to the app's best estimate based on VDH guidelines, you haven't had a significant exposure, but you may have briefly passed at a distance (even a few times) someone who went on to test positive.

Within Settings, I can see several checks, many at the same time. Do these mean I was exposed?

Within your device’s Settings menu, you can see an Exposure Notifications or Exposure Logging section (the path to these is slightly different on some devices, but is typically as stated here): Android: Settings > Google > COVID-19 Exposure Notifications and iOS: Settings > Privacy > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging or Settings > Exposure Notifications. Within those menus, you can find an “Exposure checks” field with a timestamped list. These items are not exposures, but rather when your device made the checks against the tokens from positive users that your device has downloaded from the server to look if you have had an exposure. You may see several entries with the same date, as the keys of positive users are separated into a few files, and your device will download and check for matches within each of those files.  The count of any possible matches will also be displayed here. Again the timestamp for the match is not the date of the possible exposure, but the date in which the match was found when checking for exposures.

If two students are in adjacent dorm rooms with a wall between them does the wall block the Bluetooth or could the person in another room be identified as a close contact?

A wall would be expected to diminish the signal strength between devices, but the extent would be determined by the materials and structure of the wall. It is possible that two devices close to a shared wall would still have sufficient signal strength to trigger a notification.

Do the users have to be intentional about putting their phones near each other, or does the connection take place automatically?

The connection happens automatically.

Once a person uploads their positive test results, how long does their phone/app send out they tested positive? More than 14 days after testing positive?

COVIDWISE only uploads a user’s anonymous tokens for the day of and the 14 days prior to the user submitting a positive report. It will not continue to upload any information unless the user tests positive again and submits another report.

Does the app have a mechanism to indicate when a person has been cleared to return from isolation in case they have been positive but have become well? Is there a PIN to indicate that?

The app only submits a user’s past 14 days of tokens, so there is no need to clear them in the future.

Can you address the following? Once a verification code identifies someone as positive, are they always going to show as positive or will they be followed and someone marked as negative appropriately so as not to continue to trigger a 'positive' to other users after they are no longer of concern?

A positive submission is only considered positive for the previous 14 days. A user’s keys after a submission are not uploaded unless the user tests positive again and submits a new report.

If an infected user chooses to notify others in the app, how long will it take to notify those users that they were near?

If a user submits a positive test result in the app to notify others, users that they were near can expect to receive an Exposure Notification within the next day or so from the time the report was submitted. This time is needed to make the positive user’s tokens available on the server and for other users’ devices to download those tokens & check for potential matches.

Does the app use the CDC definition of close contact -- within six feet for at least 15 minutes over a 24 hour period?

COVIDWISE makes a best effort to use the CDC definition of close contact (within six feet for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period) when notifying users of a recent exposure with someone who has gone on to test positive for COVID-19. Because COVIDWISE does not know users’ locations or their positions relative to one another, COVIDWISE estimates distance by evaluating the Bluetooth signal strength (attenuation) between two devices. Researchers have recorded various signal strengths between devices at various distances, and COVIDWISE uses attenuation thresholds to recognize encounters that exhibit attenuation signal strengths researchers have measured when devices are at a distance of six feet.

What if people submit false test reports in the app?

To prevent users from submitting false test results, the app requires users to confirm their test result using a privacy-protected verification code provided by VDH. VDH staff contact you over the phone and request the first three letters of your first and last names, and your date of birth to ensure a match with a laboratory report. Once confirmed, VDH will provide you an anonymous verification code that is not tied to your identity. Enter the verification code into COVIDWISE to report your positive test. The app will upload the list of anonymous keys it has been in contact with over the past 14 days only after a test result has been validated.

After receiving test results, how quickly will the phone call be placed?

The individual and VDH should receive test results at about the same time. A VDH case investigator will then reach out to anyone who has tested positive. This typically happens within 24 hours of the test results being available.

My exposure notification says it hasn't checked since Dec 11 2020 - over a month ago from today, why?

There is a known issue with some Android phones (particularly with Samsung devices) that provide battery and power management services that can prevent exposure checks from running.

Please try the following steps:

  • Make sure to update your COVIDWISE app to the latest in the Play Store.
  • Make sure to update to the latest version of Google Play Services. (you can follow Step 1 on this page)
  • Add the app to the "do not put to sleep" list. Go to Settings > Device care > Battery-App power management > Apps that won’t be put to sleep > Add apps. Select “COVIDWISE” App and click “Add.” Note that these settings are device specific. If you provide your phone type, I can provide more specific instructions for this step.

How does the app know if I’m infected?

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the laboratory that conducts their test will submit those results to VDH. VDH will contact this individual to discuss the recommended next steps. During that contact, VDH will provide the user with a privacy-protected, anonymous verification code, which is required to submit a positive test result in COVIDWISE to prevent false reporting.

The individual now can choose to use this verification code to report their test result in COVIDWISE. In such cases, the app will send all of this user’s daily anonymous keys from the past 14 days to a server after the infected user has given their consent to share that data.

Every phone that has the app installed regularly downloads the list of anonymous keys for users that tested positive. The app then compares that list with the list of anonymous keys it has encountered during the past two weeks. This matching does not happen on a centralized server, but directly on each user’s device. If a match is found, the app uses the duration of the exposure and the strength of the Bluetooth signal to determine if the exposure meets a risk threshold established by the latest international research.

If the risk threshold is met, the user will be notified that they have had a possible exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Does the app use any of my personal information?

No. COVIDWISE does not collect, use, or store any personally identifiable information or location data. The app is designed to protect your privacy. Neither your identity nor your location is shared by the app with VDH or other app users.

Does the app use my location?

No. Your location is never used or collected in COVIDWISE. The Exposure Notifications system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology and does not collect any geolocation or GPS data.

How do I get notified if I am exposed to another user who has tested positive for COVID-19?

If the app detects that you've been exposed to another user who has tested positive and chosen to share that with other users in the app, you will receive a push notification to inform you of a potential exposure. You can open the app to view a notice that you have possibly been exposed, along with resources for learning more and guidance on the next steps.

Is COVIDWISE open source?

Yes, you can access the source code here, https://github.com/vdh-oim/COVIDWISE.git.

Does this app work on older phones?

iPhone users can use COVIDWISE if their iPhone has iOS version 13.7 or later. The following iPhones support iOS 13.5: all models of iPhone generations 7, 8, X, 11, 12 as well as iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, and iPhone SE (1st generation). Android users can use COVIDWISE if their Android smartphone supports Bluetooth Low Energy technology and Android Version 6 (API 23) or later. Note that you will not be able to install and use COVIDWISE if your smartphone does not meet these requirements.

What can I do if my smartphone isn’t supported by COVIDWISE?

We truly appreciate your interest in COVIDWISE. Unfortunately, if your phone does not meet the version requirements, it’s not possible to use the app at this time. COVIDWISE leverages the Exposure Notifications interface provided by Apple and Google which determines the requirements for installing and using the app. We understand that this may prevent many people from being able to use COVIDWISE. We will keep the community updated on any changes in these requirements.

Do I have to leave COVIDWISE open at all times for the app to work?

No. COVIDWISE runs in the background and does not need to be open or running to work. You only need to make sure the app is installed, Exposure Notifications have been enabled, and Bluetooth is turned on.

Do I need to keep Bluetooth turned on at all times for the app to work?

Yes. The Exposure Notifications system is based on Bluetooth Low Energy technology, so Bluetooth must always be active for the system to detect your contact with other users.

Will COVIDWISE use a lot of data?

No. Every day, the app downloads the new anonymous keys for detecting possible exposures. You can expect this to consume a few megabytes of your data each day.

Will the app drain my battery?

No. COVIDWISE uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology which is designed to be energy-efficient and minimize the impact on battery use. Some battery use is required to support this app, but you should not see a significant impact on your battery consumption after installing the app.

Will this app work on iPads?

No, unfortunately, the Exposure Notifications framework was designed specifically for smartphones and is not supported on iPads or tablets.

Will this work with a smartwatch that has Bluetooth enabled?

No, unfortunately, the Exposure Notifications framework was designed specifically for smartphones and is not supported on smartwatches.

Do I need to be connected to Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection for COVIDWISE to work?

The exchange of anonymous tokens between users is done over Bluetooth and does not require Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection. As long as Bluetooth is turned on, your phone will continue to exchange tokens with others. However other app functionality, including verification code submission, positive key downloads to receive notifications, and the virtual agent, do require a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection to work.

I am using a device with iOS 13.6 and getting an Error Code 14 upon attempting to enable Exposure Notifications. What can I do?

We had a few users experience this issue, and we worked with Apple to develop a solution. A fix for this issue has been released in iOS update 13.6.1, so please go to Settings > General > Software Update to check if an update is required for your device.

I am using a device with iOS 13.7+ and getting an error “ENError Domain Error 14” when I try to enable Exposure Notifications. What can I do?

If you see this error in iOS 13.7+ please go to Settings > Exposure Notifications > Active Region, select Virginia Department of Health, and then choose “Set As Active Region” to ensure that the region is active. Then you should be able to reopen the app and enable Exposure Notifications without error. If you run into further issues, please use our app feedback form to get in touch with us.

Why does Location need to be enabled on Android devices?

On Android devices, Location needs to be enabled for Bluetooth to work, even though the location is not used by the app. In this blog post, Google discusses this in further detail. It is a feature that Google built into Android back in 2015 to improve user privacy. They did not anticipate that they would ever need Exposure Notifications and Bluetooth tech in this way. We realize it creates a lot of confusion since Exposure Notifications absolutely doesn't collect any user location data — so Google is changing this in the next release of Android.

I turn my phone off periodically, usually a few hours per day to charge and/or reboot it. Does that affect the app?

Yes, this does affect the app only slightly. In other words, this may prevent receipt of anonymous keys updates that allow for the Exposure Notifications to work effectively if the phone is off when you leave your location.

How does the app support accessibility?

We want to make sure that COVIDWISE can be used by as many people as possible.

COVIDWISE has been designed to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines where possible, including layout, sizing, navigation, and color contrast to improve app useability for all users. COVIDWISE is also designed to support smartphone assistive technologies including VoiceOver on iOS and TalkBack on Android for visually impaired users.

We will continue working to identify further accessibility improvements that can be incorporated into COVIDWISE.

What languages are supported in the app?

Currently, COVIDWISE supports English and Spanish languages. The app will use the language that is set in your device’s Settings.

Can a symptom check application be added?

VDH has a symptom tracker tool called COVIDCHECK. You can access it by clicking here.

Can a local health department locator be added?

COVIDWISE currently links to a local health department locator from the Virtual VDH component of the app within the “I received an Exposure Notification” response.

Does this app include a testing locator?

From the Virtual VDH component in the app, by selecting the “Find more information” response, you can navigate to VDH’s website where there is a link to a testing locator.

Why did VDH move COVIDWISE to the National Key Server?

VDH chose to embrace the National Key Server to better support Virginians who live near our state borders or who work in metropolitan areas like Washington, D.C. where they will regularly be exposed to citizens of other states. Additionally, this helps continue to protect our residents as they travel around the country, particularly as more states join the National Key Server. You can see the current list of National Key Server states. Washington, D.C. is also using the National Key Server.

What does the National Key Server change in the app?

Originally, COVIDWISE could only detect if you had been near a fellow Virginian who had tested positive and submitted that information to their app. The National Key Server will allow your device to notify you if you have been near a user who has tested positive as long as they are using an app from one of the several other states that have adopted the National Key Server. You can see the current list of National Key Server states. Washington, D.C. is also using the National Key Server.

How does the Share feature work?

The share feature allows you to pre-populate a text message, email, or social media post with links to download COVIDWISE from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. The app does not have access to any of your contacts’ information, but only passes your phone’s messaging app (or other apps) some text and links to share with your own contacts.

Are there plans to add additional stats and metrics to COVIDWISE?

We are investigating adding additional metrics in a future update.

If I restore from a backup or transfer my user data to a new device, will my Exposure Notifications data transfer automatically?

No, if you begin using a new device (even if you restore from a backup from a previous device and COVIDWISE is installed as part of this restore action), you’ll need to delete COVIDWISE and reinstall. This is because COVIDWISE’s anonymous tokens are treated specially by the operating system and are not backed up as part of device backup.

How are verification codes distributed to positive-tested people?

Individuals who have tested positive may retrieve a verification code from the COVIDWISE Verification Portal at https://apps.vdh.virginia.gov/CWP. You must enter your last name, date of birth, test date, and the phone number that matches the information from your registered COVID-19 test to verify your positive result.

The portal provides two options for receiving your verification.  First, you may obtain an 8-digit verification code that may be entered into COVIDWISE from the “Notify Others” tab. This 8-digit code is valid for 15 minutes once retrieved from the portal. Secondly, the portal provides the option to generate a text message that will be sent to your smartphone phone number.  The text message contains an embedded link to verify your positive report in the app. This link is valid for 24 hours after it is generated in the portal. Note that by entering your email address you are opting-in to receive SMS messages, messaging and data rates may apply.

The verification codes ensure that only valid positive COVID-19 tests are reported in COVIDWISE.

How do you verify that the text message is real and not a phishing scam?

Your privacy is protected and any text, even with embedded links, from COVIDWISE is not a phishing scam nor carries any dangerous malware that will impact your device. For an added level of security, you can call Apple’s IS&T HelpLine at 1-800-275-2273 for authentication.

What phone number should I expect to receive a VDH text message from?

The text message will come from 804-336-3915. The message will provide a link to the COVIDWISE portal and to the VDH website.

Why did I receive a text message from VDH?

VDH will send a series of text messages to people who received a positive COVID-19 viral test. This will provide rapid notification and encourage anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home and away from other people. The text will also provide a link to the new COVIDWISE Verification Code Portal. This portal will allow individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to obtain a verification code, which will let them anonymously submit their test result through COVIDWISE.

Why can't I find my record in the Verification Code Portal?

There are multiple reasons why you may not successfully find your record.  These include:

  • It is has been over 7 days since your test date
  • The information being entered in the verification portal does not match spelling/name/date of birth as reported by the healthcare provider
  • Your healthcare provider or test site has not reported the viral test result to VDH
  • The portal does not provide verification codes for serology, or blood test, results.  Only positive PCR and antigen test results are available to receive a verification code.

What is COVIDWISE Express?

COVIDWISE Express is a lightweight Exposure Notifications solution that can be enabled within the iOS operating system. It works in conjunction with COVIDWISE and other Exposure Notifications apps to exchange anonymous tokens while providing the same privacy and security.

iPhone users with versions 12.5 and 13.5+ can enable COVIDWISE Express under Settings > Exposure Notifications > Turn on Exposure Notifications > United States > Virginia.

Note that if you have COVIDWISE installed, you do not need to enable COVIDWISE Express.

Does the app support iOS 12.5?

Apple released iOS 12.5 to bring Exposure Notifications technologies to users with older smartphones. Virginia iPhones users with iOS 12.5 may now install COVIDWISE Express and enable Exposure Notifications to anonymously notify others of possible exposures.

Why is a user asked to input the date their symptoms began when submitting a positive test result?

Epidemiologists consider a person with COVID-19 to be contagious up to two days prior to their symptoms beginning and for at least 10 days.

If we know the date a positive user’s symptoms began, we can send notifications to others they were nearby only if they were exposed during that contagious period. If we don’t know the date symptoms began, we notify all other users they were around for the entire previous 14 day period.

If you are submitting a positive test result, after you enter a valid verification code into COVIDWISE, you will be asked to select the date your symptoms began. If you did not experience any symptoms, you should select the date you took your positive test. If you do not know which date to enter, you may skip this step by selecting “SKIP.”

Why do we have to enter 8 digits now for the verification code instead of 6 digits?

The verification code length has changed to increase the total possible number of codes. This allows increased security, even if the number of cases rises unexpectedly.