Starting in July, Ontario residents will be able to download an app that will let them know if, in the course of their day-to-day interactions, they’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
Government officials explained the app in a technical briefing on June 18.
The app, called COVID Alert, is based on the COVID Shield open-source app that was developed by volunteers from Canadian company Shopify. The Ontario Digital Service (ODS) and Shopify volunteers have customized it. In addition to internal security reviews, the Province said it would use volunteers from BlackBerry to audit the security and privacy of the application.
Here’s how the app will work:
• Ontarians who want to be notified if they may have been in contact with someone later diagnosed with COVID-19 download the app. It can be used on both Android devices and iPhones.
• Using Bluetooth technology, the app shares anonymous, randomly generated codes with other app users nearby them wherever they go.
• If an app user later tests positive for COVID-19, they can choose to anonymously notify others who have been near them within the past 14 days by entering a unique code into the app. The criteria for what ‘near’ means is still being developed, but will be someone who was within two metres of the infected person for longer than a few minutes, according to a government official. If an app user who has been confirmed positive for COVID-19 chooses not to enter their code into the app, no one will be notified via the app but public health contact tracing and notification would still continue manually based on contacts the infected person provides to them.
• If the app user who has tested positive chooses to notify other app users, any app users who meet the criteria for close contact will receive an anonymous notification to tell them they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and provide information on what they should do next.
• No names, phone numbers, or other identifying information is exchanged between phones or saved on the app, and it doesn’t collect or track GPS location data.
• All data on the app is destroyed after 14 days.
• Use of the app is voluntary. If someone who has downloaded it later decides they no longer want to participate, they can delete the app.
The exposure notification app is part of an enhanced case and contact tracing strategy being rolled out by the Province, and officials note that it’s just one piece of the larger contact tracing puzzle which complements other tracing efforts by public health personnel.
The government’s enhanced strategy, as described in a media release sent today, includes:
• “Ensuring that all new cases and their close contacts are identified early, contacted quickly, investigated thoroughly and are followed up with daily for up to 14 days;
• Supporting public health units with up to 1,700 additional staff from Statistics Canada;
• Improving technology tools by modernizing the integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS) through the implementation of a new custom-built COVID-19 case and contact management system; and
• Launching a privacy-first exposure notification app to alert Ontarians when they may have been exposed to COVID-19.”
Finally, the Province is also “implementing a new user-friendly case and contact management system that will integrate with COVID-19 laboratory results from the Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS) data, making current processes significantly more efficient and reducing the administrative burden for public health unit staff. A single central system will enable the province to identify province-wide regional trends and hotspots, while protecting personal health information. Custom-built on the Salesforce platform, the new system will also allow for a remote workforce, enabling contact tracing to be quickly ramped up when required.”
See more details on the Ministry of Health’s enhanced case and contact tracing strategy and the new app here (PDF).
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!