COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Alberta, and there are concerns that difficulties in contact tracing – both manual and digital – could impair the province’s ability to slow the spread.
Of the 1,812 new cases registered in Alberta last week, 772 (43 percent) were of unknown origin. The province currently has 2,836 active cases, 1,054 (37 percent) from unknown sources.
Dr. Linora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said she did not like the appearance of the numbers.
“It’s actually one of the pillars that will reduce the spread. Basically, if we can not find the ring of exposed people and prevent them from spreading out, we’re going to see really bad numbers. So this is a very big deal,” she said.
Contact tracing is the process of detecting, reporting and tracking the spread of the virus from person to person.
Over the past 14 days Alberta’s team of contact tracers have been talking to people who have tested positive to determine who they are in close contact with. Those intimate contacts can be suggested for self-isolation and testing.
Lori Hennig, acting manager with the Alberta Health Services COVID-19 outreach team in Red Deer, Alta, told CBC News last month that people are struggling to remember what they did 14 days ago.
“If you think about it yourself, if you try to think about what you did in the last 14 days, you will realize that it is not so easy to remember what you did two weeks ago,” she said. “We can definitely ask them to look at the bills, receipts and statements they have at home – to help them remember their activities over the last 14 days.”
Alberta Health spokesman Tom Macmillan said the province is working to increase its contact-tracing capacity, including through an agreement with the federal government to provide loans to employees to support the 1,000-strong team. As of September, 15 figures had hired Canadian employees in support of Alberta’s contact tracers.
Contact tracing is a slow process that one researcher says the average researcher will complete One to two calls Per day, and each COVID-19 case depends on how candid they are with their interviewer.
Dr. Dina Hinsha, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said earlier this week that Alberts do not like to share vital information with contact tracers – even where they have infections.
“It can be understood that people are fed up with COVID and angry over the ways that have disrupted their lives. Unfortunately, choosing not to work with contact tracers is not so good. It only makes it worse,” Hinsha said.
“If you suffer from COVID, please do not vent your frustration on the contact tracers who are doing their job as part of a collective effort to maintain the level of transmission.”
Saxinger said it was a problem.
“Honestly, I think that’s a big agenda for the issues ahead,” she said.
There is still no timeline to switch to Alberta for national application
This is why many experts describe mobile contact-tracing apps as an important tool for pandemic response, but Alberta also has problems before that.
The government announced in August that it would switch from its provincial COVID-19 tracing application to a national application, but two months later, any details needed to be worked out for that transition to take place.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Ottawa will continue to work with Alberta to bring the province on board.
Alberta’s app has technical difficulties, it does not work on iPhones unless the app is open and the phone is unlocked, can not run in the background.
The federal app uses Bluetooth technology. If two people are within two meters of each other for more than 15 minutes, the app will record potential exposure. If someone with the app is diagnosed with COVID-19, they can choose to record it in the app. The app notifies people who have been in contact with that person – without telling users who the person who tested positive is.
Macmillan of Alberta Health said he was in talks with Ottawa.
“We are working with the federal government on how to convert hundreds of thousands of users of Alberta’s Tracer app into a federal program,” he said.
Alberta’s ABTraceTogether app has about 247,000 users, or about six percent of the province’s population. Confederation COVID warning app Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador have about 4.5 million users or 12 per cent of the country’s population.
The Federal Privacy Commissioner told Canadians that the federal app is safe He downloads it himself.
Toronto could stand as a warning story of how contact tracing could collapse as cases increase.
Earlier this month, the city could no longer cope with the number of new cases and stopped contact tracing outside the outpost – leaving each infected person to call their closest contacts themselves.