Contact Tracing

DC Rolling Out New COVID-19 Contact-Tracing App

Virginia also has an app, but the two are not compatible

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D.C. residents will be getting alerts on their smartphones Tuesday, asking them to sign up for a new app that helps fight the spread of COVID-19.

The app could tell you if you've been exposed.

Other states, including Virginia, have already rolled out apps that can tell you if you've come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 -- but one of the problems with this new technology is that the different apps in different states don't all talk to each other.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and health officials want to take advantage of technology many of us have in our pockets in the battle to contain COVID-19 in the District.

The technology is already in iPhones; Android users will have to download the app. The idea is to get as many people as possible to sign up.

Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia

COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia

Source: DC, MD and VA Health Departments
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington

Here's How It Works

When you sign up for the app, you have to select your region of the country. Be sure to select Washington, D.C.

If you test positive for COVID-19, let the app know.

Then the app will notify everyone with whom you had extended contact in the previous 14 days, informing them that they may have been exposed.

What the App Won't Do

The app will not tell anyone who tested positive, only that they were near someone who did -- but how well it works depends on you.

"It only works, it's only useful if it's widespread participation, so download the app; tell your neighbors; tell your friends to opt in," said D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt.

The new tracking technology comes as more and more states see an increase in positive cases. The District updated its list of what they consider hotspots on Monday, as they do every two weeks. The previous list included 31 states, but eight more states were added Monday, bringing the total to 39. District residents must quarantine after returning from those locations.

Bowser made clear that the D.C. technology will respect users' privacy and will not be used as a GPS to track whether you've visited a hot spot outside of D.C.

"The sole purpose is to stop the spread of COVID-19," Bowser said.

D.C. residents won't be able to sign up until it goes live Tuesday.

What About Virginia and Maryland?

The Virginia app does not work with D.C.'s app, as Virginia rolled out its app before this technology was released. District officials said they hope that the commonwealth will make its app compatible with D.C.'s.

Maryland does not have a contact-tracing app yet, but D.C. officials hope their neighbors will soon.

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