Need to Know
- The Canadian government is hoping to shortly endorse one nationwide app for COVID-19 contact-tracing.
- Prime Minister Trudeau has been in talks with Apple and Google to bring their Bluetooth technology to Canadian devices.
- Public health officials insist that contact-tracing is vital to the country’s pandemic response and a universal app could bolster the efforts already underway.
As part of the many ongoing challenges in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian government hopes to endorse one contact tracing app for the entire country.
Contact tracing is the process of tracking people who may have come in contact with a person infected with COVID-19 in order to have them tested and isolated, a practice that is widely considered as vital to the country’s pandemic response.
Many provinces are working with volunteers to trace the contacts of infected persons, but the Canadian government is also in conversation with technology companies to develop an app that would support the work.
“It is our expectation that when the time comes for that [app] to be released, we will be able to recommend strongly to Canadians a particular app that will help us manage the spread of COVID-19,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“In order for people to move around freely and start getting back to normal life, we have to improve our ability to quickly pinpoint the virus and isolate it.”
Earlier this month, tech giants Apple and Google together released smartphone technology that notifies people automatically if they may have been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19.
The new software uses Bluetooth technology to detect when someone who has downloaded a contact-tracing app has spent time near another app user who later tested positive for the virus. This means in order for these tools to be effective, it would require nearly everyone in the country to download a contact-tracing app.
Once a user has downloaded the app and turned on the Bluetooth function on their phone, the app will send out a “unique, anonymized beacon” to other devices nearby using the same app. Each device records and stores the beacons of other devices it comes in contact with. The app will download a list of users who have tested positive for the coronavirus and then notify you if you have been in contact with one of those users.
So while Apple and Google can provide the technology to make these apps possible, each country’s public health agency will have to develop their own contact tracing apps.
And in order to avoid “inconsistent data and low uptake numbers”, Canada plans to endorse one specific app.
The province of Alberta has already released its own app, which continues to improve with ongoing updates.
“The Alberta app is not utilizing the software update [from Apple and Google] just yet,” said Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan. “Alberta Health continues to work with Apple and Google to improve the usability and utility of ABTraceTogether and enhancements will be released at a later date.”
Canada’s public health officials can’t stress enough the importance of testing and contact tracing.
“COVID-19 hasn’t gone away, and we still see cases trickling in every day in the ICU,” said Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital.
“Unless we have proactive public health measures — to test, isolate, contact trace, and support patients and contacts with COVID-19 — we’re not going to put this in a rearview mirror. We’ll have a slow, steady burn.”