Dear Friends and neighbors,
I hope you all are keeping safe and well.
I am excited to share that since the Secretary of State certified the election results last week, election year communication restrictions have been lifted and I can send you e-newsletters again! My caucus website is also running again. A bit of exciting news, I will have an official Facebook page soon! I’ll send you the link when it is available.
The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb across the state. Last night, the Department of Health reported that there are 184,404 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 11,696 hospitalizations, and 2,941 deaths statewide. So, I will focus this newsletter on the new phone application, WA Notify, and address the trust and privacy concerns that I have been hearing about.
Your phone can help stop the spread of COVID-19!
To slow the spread of this highly transmissible, potentially lethal virus, most of us have taken to heart the CDC guidelines: to wash our hands frequently, wear face masks covering both mouth and nose, and practice physical distancing. But now we can do more.
WA Notify is a simple, anonymous exposure notification tool that uses smartphones to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Watch this two-minute video on how WA Notify works:
WA Notify was released just a week ago and already over one million people have enabled it on their iPhones or installed it on their Android devices. This is a great start and it shows that Washingtonians want to be part of the solution to end this pandemic.
This info-graphic also breaks down the WA Notify process:
WA Notify does not collect or store your name or email, or any other identifiable information, nor does it track location data. It is completely anonymous. However, some people have expressed concern about privacy issues, which is not surprising as we’ve seen how technology can enable misuse or indiscriminate use of our personal information without our knowledge or permission. So it is only natural to distrust new applications, especially when it involves our personal health data.
As you know, I am a pharmacist, so as a health care professional and a legislator who is from the area where we saw the first COVID-19 case in Washington, I support using all available and effective tools, including digital ones, to prevent the spread of this virus and save lives.
But we need to do it right.
Public health case investigation, testing, and contact tracing tools to control the spread of communicable diseases are routinely used and are subject to laws and policies protecting health information privacy. WA Notify has privacy-preserving features built in. Nonetheless, I’m working on a bill that would provide a backstop and make sure that any new digital tools to increase the public health system’s capacity to deal with the pandemic will also have protections in place to safeguard our privacy. This bill seeks to, for example, ensure that none of the collected data would be used for law enforcement or immigration purposes.
Every Washingtonian should feel confident that health information collected by digital tools will be used in a private, secure, and legitimate manner and solely to help reduce the spread of COVID-19—and provide the best chance to save lives.
My bill has not been introduced yet because we’re still working out the details. I will keep you posted on progress during the coming session.
Please keep in touch
I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this and any other legislative issue, so please email me. As you may have heard, the plan is to conduct our legislative business for the 2021 session remotely, so we will rely on electronic communication more than ever before to ensure the public can participate in the legislative process.
Thank you for staying the course by following public health guidelines and for taking the time to read this update.