COVID Alert app is still active in N.L., Health Canada says after Haggie's comments
Contact-tracing app is updated monthly, says Health Canada
Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Health says Minister John Haggie misspoke about the federal government's COVID-19 Alert app no longer being active, according to a statement.
When asked Wednesday whether positive case notifications were still being shared through the app, Haggie said the app hasn't been maintained for some time.
"The federal government gave up on the COVID Alert app some time ago, several months before Christmas, in actual fact. They stopped supporting it and they stopped updating their dashboard," he said.
"The uptake was so low that the effort to maintain those sites was unreasonable given the fact that it was yielding so little."
In a statement released Thursday, the provincial Health Department said Haggie hadn't received the most up-to-date information and clarified the app still remains active in Newfoundland and Labrador but added that for the sake of speed and efficiency, it isn't always used.
"Public Health often engages affected officials using contact tracing as the fastest and most efficient way to reach appropriate close contacts and get them into isolation. Officials do not always utilize the COVID Alert app," reads the statement.
The statement adds the app is "one of the tools in the toolbox" for the province's COVID-19 response.
I can assure you (and the health minister) that the COVID Alert app continues to work just fine. How do I know? I got this Christmas Day <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/covid19nfld?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#covid19nfld</a> <a href="https://t.co/Cj2UBqAiCX">pic.twitter.com/Cj2UBqAiCX</a>—@PeterCBC
The app launched in July 2020 and has been downloaded by more than 6.7 million Canadians, according to a statement from Health Canada. The app uses Bluetooth signals to exchange random codes with nearby phones that have the app installed and is updated monthly.
More than 37,000 exposure codes had been issued as of early December, said Health Canada.
Residents asked to do their own contact tracing
The dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador has overwhelmed contact tracers in the province, and the provincial government has asked the public to take contact tracing into their own hands.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced changes to contact tracing procedure Wednesday, asking anyone who tests positive for the virus to notify their close contacts as far back as 72 hours before they started showing COVID-19 symptoms.
Those who test positive will receive a letter from public health officials detailing isolation and testing requirements, which the person will be able to send to their close contacts.
"We know that our best defence against Omicron is speed. And this is the quickest and most efficient way for us to notify contacts and get them into isolation," Fitzgerald said Wednesday.
"That's the most important thing that we can do."
Fitzgerald said the province's COVID-19 test results portal will also now include positive test results. People who see a positive result on the portal are asked to immediately go into isolation and await further instructions from public health.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported 349 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, most of them in the Eastern Health region. In recent days, the province's health authorities have released several COVID exposure notices per day.