Alberta launches app to trace coronavirus
May 6, 2020
EDMONTON – Alberta is offering an app to the public that uses Bluetooth technology to help with tracing persons who may have contracted COVID-19. The voluntary app, called ABTraceTogether, is similar to the app used in Singapore to control the spread of the novel coronavirus and is believed to be the first of its kind in North America.
“We must identify all cases, as soon as possible. Identify all locations where spread may be occurring and put measures in place to stop that spread in all those locations,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw (pictured), Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
“The benefit of this app is in speeding up information gathering to support the contact tracing work that our public health workers are already doing.”
Standard contact tracing involves interviewing a COVID-19 patient to find out where he or she has been in the past two weeks along with who they have come into prolonged contact with over that time. However, these interviews are entirely dependent on patient’s memories and willingness to disclose information.
The app aims to improve the process by creating a digital exchange of information between app users when they come within close proximity of each other.
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be asked to install and use the app but it is not mandatory for them or any other Albertans.
The app uses Bluetooth technology to identify other nearby phones that also have the app installed and are in close proximity to each other for 15 minutes or more.
Should a user test positive for COVID-19, his or her location data can be uploaded to Alberta Health Services and then used to track their prior location as well as other potentially infected users.
The data is stored on the phone itself and can only be shared with AHS by a user who voluntarily does so.
The province says the app is intended to supplement existing contact tracing procedures, not replace them.
Developers say the app doesn’t share identifiable information between users and that information like age, sex and postal code are not collected.
The province says a privacy impact assessment has been submitted and there is an active consultation with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Similar apps have been used in Australia and parts of Asia. It is currently available for both Android and iPhone users.
According to the Alberta Health website, the ABTraceTogether app uses a secure, community-driven approach where mobile devices exchange Bluetooth-enabled secure encrypted tokens when another device with the app installed is detected nearby. No other information is shared.
If an Albertan tests positive for COVID-19, a Contact Tracer from Alberta Health Services (AHS) will get in touch with the infected person using contact information provided at the testing center. This process does not change from existing AHS leading practices.
Contact Tracers are individuals who work for AHS. They will contact an infected person to determine others who may have been exposed to the infected person over the previous 21 days.
When an infected person is contacted by a Contact Tracer, the infected person will be asked if they use the ABTraceTogether app. If the infected person has the app, they will be asked to voluntarily upload the encrypted data from the app to Alberta Health Services. This information will be critical to help increase the speed and effectiveness of Alberta’s COVID-19 response.
Once AHS receives the encrypted data, AHS Contact Tracers will be able to use that information to reach the other app users who have had close contact with the infected person.
Quickly identifying the people that have been in close contact with the infected person will enable AHS to get them the guidance and care they need and to get them to self-isolate, reducing the spread of COVID-19 and helping them protect their family, friends and community.