The federal government’s COVID Alert app has been available in Nova Scotia for more than a month, and according to the province’s public health authority, it has been used successfully by some users who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
On Friday, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) confirmed that to date, 11 of its COVID-19 patients had downloaded the smartphone application, which requires those users to enter a unique, one-time key code provided by public health officials.
That key code is needed so the app can notify other users who may have been in close contact and must be used within 24 hours.
Six of the NSHA’s COVID-19 patients entered their key codes and five did not.
“Really it’s a personal choice, maybe there was too much stress in their lives at that moment, they may have missed the 24 hour, window — getting a test of COVID positive is certainly stressful,” explained Lori McCracken, an NSHA health protection manager in Truro, N.S.
It’s also possible, she added, that those patients were travelling and initially registered the app in other provinces, so the NSHA can’t account for the codes.
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It’s impossible to track how many Nova Scotians have downloaded the app, since the data is anonymous. As of Nov. 19, however, Health Canada reports that 5.3 million Canadians downloaded the app altogether, and 5,412 of those users were COVID-19 patients who entered their one-time key codes.
Marika Nadeau, director general of Health Canada’s COVID-19 Alert Task Force, said she’s not aware of a particular issue with COVID-positive users not entering their key codes. But the system was designed to be voluntary, relying on public initiative, she explained.
“That was a decision that was made when the app was originally launched, giving the ability for Canadians to feel a sense of contribution of what they can own,” she told Global News.
“We are looking at different ways and assessing the functionalities of the app, and if there’s improvements and considerations, and right now everything is on the table.”
Asked if the federal government was achieving the application uptake is was hoping for, Nadeau said “any level of uptake will help.”
Dr. Robert Strang, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Nova Scotia, echoed her statement in a briefing on Friday afternoon, as the province’s announced new restrictions amid an uptake in COVID-19 cases.
“I would encourage anybody to have the app and if you do unfortunately test positive, upload it,” he said. “But you’ve heard me say many times, it’s just another tool in our big tool box. The app itself is not going to solve anything, but certainly it’s helpful and it adds to the information.”
McCracken also encouraged Nova Scotians to download the “user-friendly” application, particularly as the province starts to see community spread in its second wave.
She also suggested Nova Scotia could benefit from additional public education initiatives that raise awareness of the app and how it works.
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