Virginia Department of Health

Virginia Department of Health Launches COVIDWISE Express as Additional Tool to Boost Exposure Notifications

New additional platform informs iPhone users of potential exposure to COVID-19 without having to download an app. 

(Richmond, Va.) — Virginia is making it even easier for people to be notified of potential exposures to COVID-19. Last week, the Virginia Department of Health launched COVIDWISE Express, a new app-less exposure notifications technology for iPhone users in Virginia who do not already have the COVIDWISE app installed.  Anonymously sending and receiving exposure notifications has never been easier. Since launching, COVIDWISE Express already has more than 504,000 users in Virginia.

COVIDWISE Express, which is available in both English and Spanish, will work solely on iPhones that have not installed COVIDWISE. When an iPhone user enables Exposure Logging on their smartphone, their device will automatically use the app-less experience, if the user hasn’t already downloaded COVIDWISE.  The Express version of COVIDWISE works by communicating with a test verification server and the national key server at specific times, all while protecting the user’s privacy and location data. Android users, and iPhone users who already have the app, will continue to use COVIDWISE. 

“COVIDWISE Express provides an additional option to help Virginia expand its existing exposure notifications and contact tracing operations without compromising user privacy or security,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “This technology will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another smartphone user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce risk of exposing others.”

COVIDWISE launched on August 5, 2020 and has surpassed 994,000 downloads, making it one of the two most downloaded exposure notification apps in the United States. The free app, which is available through the App Store and the Google Play Store, alerts users if they have been in close contact with an individual who anonymously reported their positive COVID-19 test result. 

On December 10, COVIDWISE began using the Association of Public Health Laboratories’ National Key Server, which allows COVIDWISE to work across D.C. and 19 states that have similar exposure notifications systems.  This helps to ensure users receive exposure notifications, if exposed to persons from a participating jurisdiction. 

VDH remains steadfastly committed to COVIDWISE privacy protections and continued adoption and widespread use of exposure notifications as a tool to support the public’s health and reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE options, or to download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

For more information on COVID-19 in Virginia, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus and www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

First Case of B.1.1.7 COVID-19 Variant Identified in Virginia

(RICHMOND, VA) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) today announced that the first case of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in a sample from an adult resident of Northern Virginia with no reported recent travel history. The B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom in late 2020, is associated with increased person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.

DCLS confirmed the case using next-generation sequencing that provides a genetic blueprint of the virus that causes COVID-19. DCLS has informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the case.

“Viruses change all the time, and we expect to see new strains as disease spreads,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures.”

In the United States, nearly 200 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been detected in 23 states as of January 22, 2021. While scientists are working to better understand its impact on vaccine efficacy, early data suggests currently authorized vaccines are effective against the new variant. VDH continues to work with communities across Virginia to slow the spread of all strains of COVID-19 through widespread adherence to preventive measures, supporting testing and vaccination efforts, and conducting investigations of cases and outbreaks.

As a virus spreads from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Because of these mutations, new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. According to the CDC, multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and around the world. The B.1.1.7 variant contains an unusually large number of mutations.

DCLS began sequencing positive COVID-19 samples in March 2020, becoming one of the first public health labs in the nation to use this technology to examine the genetic makeup of the virus and track how it is changing and being transmitted in the Commonwealth. To date, DCLS has sequenced more than 10 percent of positive samples tested by the state lab, and is working with other labs in Virginia to solicit additional positive samples to sequence so public health officials can get a representation of variants circulating throughout Virginia.

“Sequencing is one of many tools we have available at the state’s public health laboratory to enable medical and public health officials to quickly identify and respond to threats such as emerging COVID-19 variants,” said Dr. Denise Toney, Director of DCLS. “We share this information not only within the Commonwealth, but with our federal and international partners to gain a better understanding of emerging genetic changes to SARS-CoV-2.”

For more information about COVID-19 variants, visit the VDH COVID-19 Testing website and the CDC New COVID-19 Variants website. For more information on DCLS and its use of next-generation sequencing, visit dgs.virginia.gov/dcls.

VDH Medical Reserve Corps Volunteers to Help Local Officials Encourage Safe Voting Practices on Election Day

(RICHMOND, VA) – Hundreds of Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers throughout the Commonwealth have volunteered with the state to help provide Election Day support for in-person voting during Virginia’s COVID-19 public health emergency. MRC volunteers will help local election officials safely conduct in-person voting in their communities by encouraging appropriate COVID-19 precautions.

“We are very proud of Virginia’s residents who have volunteered with the Medical Reserve Corps during the COVID-19 pandemic response. These trained and dedicated professionals have helped care for residents of nursing homes, tested people for COVID-19, worked countless hours at call centers and served in many other ways,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “We recognize the importance of voting, and the MRC will be there to help protect the health of our residents exercising that important right at polling places.”

Virginia Department of Health (VDH) State Volunteer Coordinator Jennifer Freeland and MRC staff have been making plans for Election Day efforts since the spring. “The Governor’s Office activated the Virginia MRC to ensure that voters could vote safely during the elections in May.  Since then, MRC volunteers have eagerly stepped up to serve for early and in-person voting.  Our teams are prepared and ready to make the November Election Infection Prevention deployment a safe experience for voters and poll workers,” said Freeland.

Statewide, 50 localities have asked for MRC assistance at more than 1,000 polling locations for Election Day, November 3. The Medical Reserve Corps expects to provide nearly 900 trained volunteers across the state to assist with the general election. Training has jointly been provided by the Virginia Department of Elections and VDH.

MRC volunteers will staff local polling places to encourage voters to use masks and hand sanitizer and to help staff and voters remember to maintain at least six feet of physical distance. They are also trained to spot opportunities to reduce transmission of germs, such as keeping doors propped open where possible to minimize the number of surfaces voters may touch, increase area ventilation and to safely enter and exit the building. Tips for Voting During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

  1. Make a plan. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website for more information on options for voting in Virginia.
  2. Wear a cloth face covering/mask, if you are able, at all times while voting.
  3. Exercise proper social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet of separation from other voters and poll workers. Consider staying more than 6 feet away from people who are not wearing cloth face coverings.
  4. Practice good hygiene.
    1. Do not use physical greetings, such as handshaking.
    2. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after voting. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer to clean your hands.
    3. Avoid touching your face and face covering.

For more information, see the Vote Safely section of this web page.

VIRGINIA CELEBRATES FARM TO CACFP WEEK

Activities Encourage Increased Awareness of Virginia Agriculture

(Richmond, VA) – Food is a foundation of living well, which is more important now than ever. This year, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will recognize Virginia Farm to Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week October 18 through 24, with virtual activities throughout the Commonwealth. Farm to CACFP connects participants to nutrition education, Virginia grown foods, and gardening opportunities. Through these activities, CACFP participants will learn about Virginia agriculture while building knowledge of and interest in healthy foods.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a critical need for the provision of nutritious meals and snacks in the Commonwealth. Farm to CACFP is an innovative approach to prioritizing access to healthy food and nutrition education, while also supporting Virginia agriculture,” said Director of the Division of Community Nutrition Paula Garrett. CACFP provides reimbursement for meals served to children, older adults and chronically impaired or disabled persons enrolled at participating care centers.

In recognition of the week, VDH encourages day care facilities and families at home to conduct activities that bring awareness to Virginia agriculture and seasonal food. “We are hoping day care centers, and families learning at home, take advantage of this free opportunity to celebrate Virginia agriculture and healthy, seasonal food. Our website provides a virtual toolkit filled with activity ideas, printable posters, and links to register for some fun, free virtual events for all ages,” said Garrett.

Virtual events include cooking classes, informational webinars, and educational videos. For more information on the week and to register for a free virtual activity toolkit, visit VirginiaCACFP.com/FarmtoCACFP. VDH also encourages everyone to promote activities and share your participation on social media using #VAFarmtoCACFP.

For information about these activities, contact Taya Jarman at 804-864-7299 or email taya.jarman@vdh.virginia.gov.

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