Ontario launching coronavirus contact tracing app

Jun 18 2020, 5:14 pm

Ontario is launching a COVID-19 exposure notification app, within the next to weeks, so people can stay up-t0-date with case and contact tracing in the province.

On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said that the mobile app COVID Alert, which is being done in partnership with the federal government, provides a fast, secure, privacy-protected way to notify people who have been exposed to coronavirus.

“Privacy was our top priority when developing the app,” Ford said.

Using Bluetooth, the app shares anonymous, randomly generated codes with other app users nearby.

Government of Ontario

And, if you test positive for the virus, you can anonymously notify others who have been near you in the last 14 days. And if you have been in contact with anyone who tested positive, you will also be notified.

According to the province, the app collects no personal data or personal health information and does not collect or track GPS location data.

It also “destroys” all anonymized data on the app after 14 days.

The app can be used by Android devices and iPhones, and can interact with other similar apps from outside Ontario.

Government of Ontario

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure. That’s why our government has been relentless in building our testing and contact tracing capacity to track, trace, and contain the invisible enemy we face,” Ford said.

“As we take our contact tracing strategy to the next level today, I want to thank the federal government for providing more boots on the ground and supporting a privacy-first app that will protect both Ontarians and Canadians alike.”

The new app is part of Ontario’s enhanced case and contact management.

To ensure that it is done effectively to help prevent the spread of the virus, public health units will connect with all individuals who have had close contact with a positive case within 24 hours of being identified and direct all close contacts to self-isolate for up to 14 days.

“We expanded our testing capacity so anyone that needs a test can get a test,” Ford said.

“Testing and contact tracing is critical and building this capacity will help us stop the virus in its tracks. It’s absolutely critical to have this capacity as we open more regions of the province.”

There will also be follow up with close contacts every day for the duration of their self-isolation and advise testing to all appropriate close contacts.

In order to improve the speed of lab testing entries, the province will have a new IT system called Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS), that will reduce the need for faxes and manual data entry of test result, reducing lag time from when a patient received their result online and when they are contacted by their local health unit.

This will then allow for earlier investigation of cases and contact identification.

Currently, 97% of cases are contacted within 24 hours.

And, the current public health unit capacity for cases and contact management is approximately 1,500, with an additional surge capacity of 500.

To augment the current provincial capacity of approximately 2,000 case managers and contact tracers, Ontario is providing additional contact tracing staff.

New and expanded capacity will be provided through Statistics Canada with access to up to 1,700 additional staff, available to all provinces, for contact tracing — Public Health Ontario will continue overseeing the training and coordination of these additional resources.

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada will be launching a national app for COVID-19 contact tracing.

The app is being developed by Shopify, Blackberry, and the Province of Ontario.

Trudeau said the app will be testing in Ontario before rolling out nationally.

Clarrie FeinsteinClarrie Feinstein

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