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Alberta to roll out contact-tracing app in battle against COVID-19

Alberta is in the final stage of testing a new contact-tracing app that people will be able to download to their cellphones, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health said at a news conference on Thursday.

Two more deaths and 319 new cases of illness reported on Thursday

Alberta is moving towards an app that will speed up information gathering to support the contact-tracing work public health workers are already doing. 1:35

Alberta is in the final stage of testing a new contact-tracing app that people will be able to download to their cellphones, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health said at a news conference on Thursday.

"Albertans will have the choice about whether to download the app," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. All information collected will be stored on people's personal phones, not by the government, she said.

"This app uses Bluetooth to note if you came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19," Hinshaw said. "The app does not track Albertans' geographic locations."

The app will speed up information gathering to support the contact-tracing work public health workers are already doing. Similar apps have already been used effectively in Singapore and South Korea, Hinshaw said.

Moving health into 21st century

"This is simply taking our decades-old public health approach into the 21st century, and providing more efficient means for Albertans to work with public health in tracing contacts of cases.

"I want to again emphasize that this is a voluntary app and Albertans will be able to choose whether or not to download it."

The government has spoken with the Information and Privacy Commissioner about the app, she said, and no concerns were raised.

"We expect it will be available to all Albertans in the coming weeks once the trials are finished."

Soon after the news conference, Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton issued a statement saying her office has yet to receive detailed information about the app, despite receiving a "high-level overview about the goals of this program" earlier this month.

"The Government of Alberta has committed to providing a privacy impact assessment on this initiative, and we look forward to reviewing it when it is received," Clayton said.

Clayton said it will be important for the government to provide users of the app with a "clear, easy to understand description of privacy practices."

"Knowing in plain language what types of personal information may be collected, how that information will be used and in what circumstances it will be disclosed will assist people in choosing to opt-in to using the app," Clayton said. 

"Outlining what if any information is retained, for how long it is retained, and stating when this program will end will also help build the public's trust in using the app."

Two more people in Alberta have died from COVID-19, both in the Brooks area, and the province reported 319 new cases on Thursday, Hinshaw said at her news conference.

The total number of deaths is now 68, and the total number of cases sits at 3,720.

Of that, 1,357 people have now recovered from the illness.

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says that mass gathering restrictions currently in place will apply to all summer events or festivals in the province. 2:32

No summer festivals

By now, people have grown accustomed to bad news, and Hinshaw had more for those Albertans who may be looking forward to summer festivals or time spent at the cabin.

"We need to remember that a single case of COVID-19 can spread like wildfire in large groups of people," she said. "That is why today I want to clarify that the mass gathering restrictions currently in place also apply to all summer events or festivals in Alberta.

"Those restrictions prohibit gatherings of more than 15 people and require people gathered in groups of fewer than 15 to maintain a distance of two metres from one another.

"Albertans are prohibited from attending any event that would violate these orders," Hinshaw said.

"I know summer festivals and events are incredibly important for many people. This decision was not made lightly, but we must do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We have seen that festivals and large gatherings hold the potential to be super-spreader events, where one sick person can expose many others to the virus, spreading COVID-19 across households, communities and even large geographical distances."

Better access to protective gear

Hinshaw also said Alberta Health Services has developed a new, easier approach to ensure personal protective equipment (PPE) is available to all community specialists, including ophthalmologists, surgeons, radiologists and other specialists.

"Effective immediately, community specialists are able to order PPE for their clinics through their AHS zone's point of contact," she said.

The regional breakdown of cases as of Thursday was:

  • Calgary zone: 2,633
  • Edmonton zone: 454
  • South zone: 373
  • North zone: 157
  • Central zone: 80
  • Unknown: 23  

For weeks now, Albertans have been absorbed in the daily numbers of the COVID-19 pandemic — watching each day to see how many more people have died, how many more cases have been reported.

To offer a longer view of what's happening in the province, CBC News looked at the numbers for a eight-day period, starting April 16 and ending Thursday.

During those eight days, 18 more people in Alberta died of COVID-19.

During that same period, 1,562 new cases were reported and more than 23,000 people were tested, bringing that total to 112,162.

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