Alberta’s contact tracing app has been used to identify people who have been infected with the coronavirus just 19 times since its launch this spring, revealing another weakness in the province’s strategy to prevent infection.
Premier Jason Kenny has rejected calls to receive the Federal Exposure Notification application, saying the province tool is superior because it is folded into Alberta’s contact tracing network. But Alberta’s virus researchers drowned in the COVID-19 blast, which stopped contact tracing and saved for high-priority cases.
Alberta counted 860 new infections on Monday, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 10,031. Approximately 7 percent of COVID-19 tests conducted in Alberta were back positive.
Mr. Kenny has been reluctant to handle the epidemic through heavy government sanctions and is relying on the Alberts to take “personal responsibility”. He cited Alberta’s testing and capabilities as crucial to the provincial defense system.
But now that contact tracing is mostly up to event organizers and individuals, it takes Alberta Health Services a week to contact school superintendents about epidemic COVID-19 cases in their facilities and the best technology available in the province no matter how many times its application is available has proven useful.
The app, called ABTraceTogether, identified 70 close associates in 19 of the province’s COVID-19 cases, Alberta Health spokesman Joe Cooper said Monday. This means that the app has been used to find contacts in 0.05% of cases since the beginning of May. The federal app was used to warn the public that about 5 percent of COVID-19 cases in Ontario are at risk of contracting the virus, and the province adopted the program in late July.
According to Christopher Parsons, a Citizen Lab researcher at the Monk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy in Toronto, ABTraceTogether’s usage rate is lower than province estimates.
“It’s definitely not great,” he said. “It’s like a very small number.”
Contact Tracers now counts 15 close contacts per infected person, said Dina Hinsha, Alberta’s chief medical officer. That means an additional 15,000 people each day are considered close acquaintances. Alberta, in early November, stopped contact tracing cases unless the infected person was a minor, health care worker or living or working in a religious background. However this did not reduce the stress.
“Those teams are still struggling to get the job done on time,” Dr Hinsha said Monday. “There’s still big, big work to be done.”
Contact tracers use the ABTraceTogether to track the infected person’s close contacts, even if the person is not in the high – priority group. If anyone who uses the app is compatible with COVID-19, they can upload the app’s data and tracers to determine when that person is infected. Tracers contact other app users who are near the sick person at the time.
Recent improvements to the app will speed up its use, said Alberta Health Minister spokesman Steve Buick. ABTraceTogether depends on the overlap between users and positive COVID-19 cases, and “naturally” into different groups.
“Application users are early recipients and follow the rule of conscience, which means they are less at risk; Cases are high risk people, ”he said. “Not that they are not overlapping, while initially the numbers are still very low, which is another barrier to the app’s effectiveness.”
Alberta and British Columbia were the only provinces to reject the COVID warning, Federal government application. The COVID alert cuts off contact tracers, which increases privacy but overwhelms the testing and tracing system. If a user tests positive, the person can key in the code and send the app exposure alerts to phones within two meters of the infected person’s device for at least 15 minutes during the previous two weeks.
Ontario received the application in late July and since then between November 15 54,934 people have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 2,833 entered one-time key codes into the app, meaning it automatically notifies potential close contacts in 5 percent of cases since it was launched. It is not known how many notifications were issued due to the app’s privacy concerns, but Ontario says the app led to 80,000 visits to its COVID-19 exposure website by November 15.
As of November 15, the COVID alert has been downloaded approximately 5.27 million times. Ontario says it believes there are more customers in Canada’s largest province. With an population of 4.4 million, the app in Alberta had approximately 251,000 registered users in early November.
Experts estimate that between 56% and 95% of the population will adopt contact tracing applications and follow public health guidelines to control COVID-19, according to a study published in The Lancet.
Alberta is also struggling to communicate with schools when dealing with a wave of positive cases. On November 9, the Parkview School in Edmonton sent children in grades 7, 8 and 9 to self-isolate, for example two people associated with the school tested positive for the virus. School principal Joan Aldridge told parents Sunday that she had not yet heard from AHS.
“Without certification from AHS, I would not be able to officially confirm the time of detention for our students and staff,” she said in an e-mail received by The Globe and Mail.
AHS spokeswoman Kerry Williamson said that without specifically mentioning Park View, the health authority would inform close contacts in school settings as soon as possible.
“Contact tracing resources have been highlighted as the number of cases and outbreaks across the province have increased significantly, resulting in more time between case confirmation and close contact notification,” he said. “The AHS seeks to contact the superintendents of cases that are considered contagious while in school. Setting within 5-7 days of confirmation of a positive test result.”
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