Manitoba still working on getting COVID-19 contact tracing app

A Health Canada app to assist in contact tracing for COVID-19 has rolled out in four provinces, but not yet in Manitoba.

So far, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Saskatchewan have the app.

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Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says the province is still working on it.

“I think there is some value in that. Remember it’s not going to replace public health’s ability to contact trace; that’s the most important aspect of the contact tracing,” Roussin said.

“This would be adding some insight to that. It would rely on a tremendous uptake for Manitobans if it’s to provide any benefit.”

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The app works by using Bluetooth to monitor where you’ve been. If someone who tests positive for COVID-19 alerts the app, it will let you know if you were close by in the past 14 days.

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist with EPI Research Inc., says the app could help contact trace but needs a significant buy-in to be successful.

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“There is potential. In other countries there appears to have been a fair amount of success, but in Canada and other countries where there has been pilot projects for apps, there is actually in many cases there has been very low uptake,” she said.

“The key to the success of that app is that you actually report it and you feel confident and your privacy is protected in reporting it through the app and does it offload work for public health or create it if too many people get alerts and they’re not really what we would consider a close contact.”

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Carr says she would be concerned it might produce more false alarms.

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“If I’m in Superstore for half an hour and someone else is in Superstore for 20 minutes but I’m in the ice cream section and someone else is in the produce aisle, is that really the definition of a close contact? There has to be that education,” Carr said.

“If you get a notification, that might be very frightening. We don’t want a whole bunch of false alerts when you might not really be meeting that World Health Organization definition of a close contact.”

By Sept. 1, the app had been downloaded about 2.2 million times by users across Canada.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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