Covid-19 contact-tracing apps from Apple Inc. and Google are coming to more states, along with evidence that they can help slow infections as long as enough people use them.
Fourteen states and Washington, D.C., have recently adopted the “exposure notification” technology the companies built into their smartphone operating systems—Big Tech’s most significant contribution to the fight against Covid-19. California, and other states are piloting the technology and could release it soon. It lets people who have tested positive for Covid-19 alert others they have previously been in close contact with that they should take precautions or get a test.
As case counts explode and a nationwide rollout of vaccines remains months away, epidemiologists say the technology can help slow the virus’s spread—if widely used and fast testing is broadly available. Yet many of the millions of Americans who have access so far are skeptical, suspicious or simply unaware of it.
That has been the struggle in Virginia, which in early August became the first state to roll out an exposure notification app. Three months later, downloads of the app, known as Covidwise, amounted to roughly a 10th of Virginia’s population of about 8.5 million.
Politicization of the virus has hampered efforts to increase the app’s adoption, said Jeff Stover, executive adviser to Virginia’s health commissioner who is in charge of Covidwise. “That doesn’t help convince Virginians to download and run an exposure notification app that is run by the government,” he said.