Earlier this summer, I posted on why I installed the COVID Alert App, the national exposure notification app designed to provide Canadians with an alert if they may have been exposed to COVID-19. The post discusses the privacy safeguards that have been built into the app, the reviews from both the federal and Ontario provincial privacy commissioners, and points to previous Lawbytes podcasts (Edwards, Clayton, Kosseim) that discuss the use of technology to help counter the spread of the virus. While there were some concerns (notably the ongoing concerns with social inequities), I concluded that the safeguards combined with the public health benefits were enough to justify installation (Apple, Android).
On the day of the post, there were a total of 88 new cases in Ontario and just four in Ottawa, where I live. As I write this post just over two months later, the latest numbers are 797 new cases in Ontario and 182 new cases in Ottawa (now 939 province-wide). What started out as app that was nice to have with little urgency among many to download, has become an increasingly important tool in trying to stem the second wave. When the app first launched, it was only functional in Ontario. Today, the app can be used to report a COVID-19 diagnosis in seven provinces: Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario, PEI, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. The app is close to launching in Nova Scotia and Alberta has announced that it plans to switch over to the app as well.
The download numbers have also grown significantly in recent weeks. There was just over 1 million downloads in the first few days and just over 2 million after the first month. Five weeks later, the number has topped 4 million downloads. More notably, the app is being used to alert people of potential exposure with 90 users providing a notification in the first month and over 1,000 notifications in the last five weeks. The increasing notifications points to the rapid spread of the virus, but also confirms that Canadians are willing to not only install the app, but also alert others should the need arise.
As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, if you haven’t downloaded and installed the app, please do so. The app doesn’t replace other essential measures – social distancing, wearing masks, testing, contact tracing – but it has emerged as an important part of the toolbox for keeping everyone a bit safer.