Alberta must move ahead with federal COVID tracing app, advocacy group says

A group of doctors and concerned citizens is calling on the provincial government to immediately adopt the federal COVID-19 tracing app.

'40% of people who’ve acquired COVID recently, we don’t know where they’ve acquired it from'

The federal COVID Alert app is designed to notify users if they have been in proximity to another app user who has tested positive for COVID-19. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A group of doctors and concerned citizens is calling on the provincial government to immediately adopt the federal COVID-19 tracing app.

Masks4Canada says Alberta's case numbers are rising at an alarming rate, and while the group welcomes new limits on social gatherings — announced for Calgary and Edmonton earlier this week — it believes the province needs to do more.

"Forty per cent of people who've acquired COVID recently, we don't know where they've acquired it from," said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician specializing in public health at the University of Alberta. 

"And so having something like the federal app, which would allow people to be notified if they've been in the proximity of someone who has COVID, would be a very effective way to contact trace, and it would address some of our capacity issues with contact tracing."

Province says it is seeking a smooth transition

Speaking Wednesday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province will end up adopting the federal app.

Shandro said the province wants to ensure it does not lose the 247,000 users who have downloaded Alberta's ABTraceTogether app.

"The issue right now is to be able to talk to the federal government about how those 247,000 people can be transitioned to the federal government's app," he said.

"I want to make sure there's a transition that's smooth and has the smallest bleed of users."

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says the province will adopt the federal government's COVID-19 tracing app but wants to ensure it doesn't 'bleed' the 247,000 users currently using the Alberta app. (CBC News)

Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces that have yet to sign on to the federal app.

The province set new records for the number of active cases on both Monday and Tuesday this week, with the total now sitting at 4,738.

'Let's get something in place'

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Tom Sampson, also called on the province to get on with activating that federal government's app.

"We know the provincial app doesn't work properly on most devices and nobody is using it, at all," Nenshi said as he and Sampson held a media briefing Wednesday about the new restrictions introduced this week by the province.

"Let's get something in place."

Alberta Health has said it is working with Ottawa to sort out how to transition users from the province's tracing app to the national one. 

Meanwhile, Masks4Canada said in a release that it believes a 15-person limit on social gatherings is still too large.

"New cases announced today reflect public health measures in place two weeks ago. Therefore rapid, proactive public measures are imperative," the release said.

Other recommendations

The group made several other recommendations — including moving to a provincewide mask mandate and officially acknowledging there is evidence of airborne spread of the virus.

Ladha says she is concerned the virus is being allowed to spread in overly crowded environments such as restaurants and gyms.

"We're not proposing a full lockdown, but we feel that if we don't implement some mandatory measures immediately, then we're headed to a place where a more severe lockdown would be needed," she said.

Dr. Joe Vipond, an ER physician in Calgary and a co-founder of Masks4Canada, said the contact tracing system in Alberta needs help.

"We're not hearing any reports of successes from the government and so we need to look at other options," he said. "Really, this is the only other option that's out there right now."

Nenshi said he heard in question period that some ministers were mocking the federal app as "[Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau's app."

"Stop it. We don't need that kind of partisanship here," he said. "We gotta keep people safe and I just hope we go ahead and sign off on it as soon as possible."

With files from Jennifer Lee