‘We haven’t made a final decision’ on federal COVID-19 app, Alberta premier says

The federal COVID-19 app is still not available in Alberta, but the province’s top doctor wants Albertans to use AB Trace Together to help COVID-19 contact tracing.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw was asked about the delay in rolling out the federal app in Alberta during a news conference on Thursday.

“We will not be able to defeat COVID-19 with any one single tool, and our approach has to take into account multiple different tools and layers of protection,” she said.

“The federal app is an exposure notification app.

“So because of the way it was built, it doesn’t feed into the contact-tracing system; but rather simply directly notifies when there’s been more than 15 minutes within two metres of a phone of someone who tests positive.”

“The AB Trace Together app — that is available in Alberta and that has been improved to make it work better on iPhones — that is still available as a tool in Alberta and would serve the needs of anyone who may have been exposed while in the province, which again is the vast majority of Albertans,” Hinshaw said.

“So I would encourage people to use that as it is currently available.”

As of Thursday, 249,737 Albertans had downloaded the AB Trace Together app, the province said — 65 per cent on iOS and 35 per cent on Android.

The premier said the issues with the iOS version of Alberta’s app were resolved Sept. 28.

“One of the reasons why it didn’t achieve the level of widespread use that we originally hoping for — but frankly, neither has the federal app to this point — was because of a suboptimal user experience,” Jason Kenney said Monday.

“The app was operating on the front of people’s phones and consumed a lot of battery power.

“Happily, on Sept. 28 for iOS-based platforms for iPhones, we managed to download a technical solution. So now it operates in the back of of people’s phones.”

Kenney said Alberta had not made a final decision about incorporating the federal COVID-19 Alert app in the province because the Alberta app is far more compatible with the rest of Alberta Health’s contact tracing system.

“The AB Trace Together app connects to Alberta’s contact tracing system, which has led the country in terms of contact tracing.

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“Based on the advice we’ve received so far, it’s more effective as a public health tool. The federal app would not be connected to our contact tracing system. Indeed, next door to us, British Columbia has expressed similar concerns.”

Henry said there are some parameters built into the federal app that are frustrating, including the length of time the app stores tracing data.

“What we really would like to see is an app that we could download when we’re at a celebration or a party or a church service so that we can identify those specific times when there may have been somebody with COVID who was in that vicinity.”

As of Oct. 27, the federal COVID Alert app had been downloaded 4,805,411 times across the country.

The COVID Alert app aims to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in Canada by notifying a user when they have been in close contact with another user who tested positive for the virus.

In order to trace someone’s exposure, the app uses Bluetooth to exchange random codes with nearby phones. It does not use or access any location data, the website states.

It is currently working in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

“We haven’t made a final decision,” Kenney said Monday.

“Certainly, when Albertans travel outside the province they can use the federal app in provinces that they might be visiting if they’ve signed up, and when Canadians are travelling to Alberta, they’re more than welcome to download the AB Trace Together app.”

“We continue to be in discussions with the federal government about their exposure notification app and the potential for using it in Alberta,” Hinshaw said Thursday.

“But again, I want to really reinforce that whatever tools we use, it won’t replace the need for all of the other public health measures that remain the foundation of our response: making sure that we are distancing from others outside our household and cohort, wearing masks when we can’t, washing hands, staying home when sick. Those are the foundation.

“And the other pieces that come on top of that, again, each of them has pros and cons,” she said.

In an interview Friday on 630 CHED Mornings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said political division was part of the reason Alberta wasn’t online with the federal COVID-19 app yet.

Previously, when Alberta was trying to work out the issues with its app, Premier Jason Kenney has said the federal government told Google and Apple not to work with the province.

“They’ve done so because they say they want cooperation on a single national platform, but there isn’t one,” Kenney said in July.

At the time, there wasn’t a federal app. Now that there is, Trudeau said the reason it isn’t available for Albertans is because Kenney’s government isn’t allowing it in Alberta.

“If you come into contact with someone from Saskatchewan who then goes on this one and tests positive, it will alert you. So it’s already useful,” Trudeau said.

“It’ll just be a lot more useful when the province decides to give people the ability to plug in the codes.”

— With files from Richard Zussman, Global News

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