RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — You may soon be able to help fight the spread of COVID-19 by downloading an app on your phone.

On Wednesday, members from the Virginia Department of Health announced plans to launch a proximity tracking app to help supplement the efforts already underway by human contact tracing.

The method, which isn’t new to public health, is meant to help investigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a patient tests positive, a tracer will contact that person and find out where they were during the infectious period, who was with them and who might have been exposed.

“Contact tracing will be critical in reopening Virginia,” said Marshall Vogt, a senior epidemiologist leading VDH’s contact-tracing effort.

While the app is still under design, VDH Deputy Commissioner of Administration Mona Bector expects it to work similarly to a GPS on your phone.

VDH would have a case management database to log positive cases and the patient’s travel. Then if GPS data identifies an app user as traveling to similar locations at the same time, they would be identified as someone that needs to be followed up with by a contact tracer.

The tracer would help identify any coronavirus symptoms and continue to check in with the exposed individual to make sure they’re healthy and quarantined. They would also help refer the person to testing and care if they become ill.

“With people and the technology together, we’re going to be able to ramp up and really accelerate this contact tracing,” Vogt said.

However, there is the underlying concern about privacy.

Bector said an app host hasn’t been decided yet, but VDH will insist any data collected is on a very secure cloud-based system.

No one will be required to download the app but it would be encouraged.

“We would allow people to opt-in or opt-out… However if you are opted-in, it isn’t tracking you all the time. It is able to say ‘Hey you came in contact with this someone’… Everything they are looking at has a lot of privacy,” Bector said.

VDH is aiming to hire 1,300 people statewide in the coming weeks for the contact tracing program, with 6,000 people already have applied.

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