British Columbia

B.C. reluctant to join federal COVID Alert app despite record weekend spike in cases

Despite a record weekend increase in COVID-19 cases, B.C. is in no hurry to get on board with the rest of the country in activating the federal government's coronavirus exposure alert app.

'It's not at the point where it would be helpful for what we are managing here in B.C.' Dr. Bonnie Henry says

The COVID Alert app exchanges random codes via Bluetooth with nearby phones which have the app installed. Updates now allow the app to notify users of potential exposure to cases from the start date of a user's symptoms or test date. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Despite a record weekend increase in COVID-19 cases, B.C. is in no hurry to get on board with the rest of the country in activating the federal government's coronavirus exposure alert app.

B.C. joins Alberta as the last provinces that haven't activated the COVID Alert app, and on Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it's because she believes that without some changes, the app wouldn't help in the province's fight against COVID-19.

"There are some parameters that they've built into the federal app that we don't feel work and we believe would cause more concern and frustration as we've seen in some other provinces," Henry said.

"We're still negotiating with the federal government about modifying it to meet the needs so that it would be useful for us."

B.C. saw a spike of 817 new cases and three deaths over the weekend, the largest number of new cases ever in the province during a three day period.

Henry said the increase is due in part to social gatherings held over the Thanksgiving weekend.

She implemented a new provincial health order, restricting gatherings in private homes to no more than immediate household members and a "safe six" additional people.

The federal government's smartphone app lets users anonymously report their positive COVID-19 tests and alert others who may have been exposed.

British Columbians can download the app, but it shows no data. The government has said its priority is for all provinces to join the app. 

However, in Ontario, just five per cent of people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 used the app to report their infection, which has hampered its effectiveness in slowing down that province's second wave.

Public health experts in Ontario say it's still been helpful as one of many tools in use to slow the virus's spread. 

Henry said it's a useful app to download if British Columbia residents are travelling, but there are features she'd like to see added to make it more effective for use within the province.

"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 identity those specific times when there may have been somebody with COVID who was in that vicinity," Henry said.

The app is "very non-specific"  and goes back 14 days, Henry said, which she said doesn't make sense because people who have COVID-19 are not infectious for that entire duration.

"I know they've committed to addressing some of those issues but we've not reached an agreement to address [them]," Henry said.

"But it's not at the point where it would be helpful for what we are managing here in B.C. for our pandemic right now."

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