“Engagement,” according to Dr. Clemens Hong, who oversees all of Los Angeles County’s COVID testing sites, is the most critical piece to any contact tracing strategy. 

In software design, we know that with each additional step comes with a drop off in usage. This is why Healthvana’s exposure notification tool starts on the same page a patient learns about their result. 

Healthvana delivers positive test results from labs the moment there is a result, and on average, patients view their status within 30 mins on their phones.  If positive, they can enter a phone number/email and their “close contacts” will be anonymously and instantly notified – giving options for free testing and resources.  Those “close contacts” view those notifications in minutes, taking contact tracing from days to minutes.  

And with ease of use comes increased contact tracing engagement and slowing the spread.  Virginia’s Covidwise was the nation’s first state created exposure notification app; since its inception in August just 488 people have used the bluetooth based tool to send alerts about a positive diagnosis. Citizen’s SafePass, a private, nationwide digital contact tracing app saw 1.1 million downloads in November with only 130 positive cases reported and 200 exposure notifications sent. 

However, in Los Angeles County alone, in the first four weeks of Healthvana’s digital contact tracing program, more than 3,000 people were notified of an exposure within hours from when the original positive test result was recorded. The vast majority of those 3,000 individuals opened the exposure notification within five minutes. 50% of the close contacts who received a notification clicked on a link to access a COVID test. 

Bluetooth based digital contact tracing tools are great because they allow people who do not directly know each other to get notified of a potential exposure, but they are not perfect. They require people to self report their positive test result so others may be notified. This process is not instant, often requires a call to or from a public health department to confirm your status, and an additional 1-2 days before your results are entered into the state’s system and put to use (as in the case with CA Notify). 

A problem as large and complex as COVID requires numerous solutions, and immediate exposure notifications to close contacts are just one more tool in the toolkit to support traditional contact tracing and slow the spread.