The COVID Alert app is now live in Newfoundland and Labrador, as the province has become the second in Canada to sign up for the federal government’s exposure notification system.
The provincial government unveiled details of how the app works Thursday morning.
The app has been in use in Ontario since the end of July and with minor details, such as customized public health information, operates the same.
When phones that have the app are in contact for more than 15 minutes at a distance closer than two metres, that contact is logged via Bluetooth as a “digital handshake” in which no personal information is collected or stored.
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, public health officials give a code to enter into the app, which then triggers an exposure alert to all phones with which it has logged contact over the last 14 days.
The notification tells users they may have been exposed to COVID-19, and gives them information of how to get tested.
All aspects to the program all voluntary, from downloading the app to entering a positive test code into it. The code itself expires in 24 hours.
“It’s not going to replace contact tracing and that traditional expertise from public health, but it certainly is another tool that we can use,” said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, adding contact tracing will continue for every positive case.
Fitzgerald also stressed the app notifies of possible exposure to a case, and does not mean the user was a close contact or will even receive a call from public health as contact tracing happens. But the notification does mean a COVID-19 test is recommended.
The provincial government had initially begun talks with Verafin to develop its own notification app. It curtailed those as the federal government stepped up to create a Canada-wide version, although the province said it has been involved with the national development efforts.
More than 2.2 million people have downloaded the app so far, the bulk in Ontario.
The app is available through Apple and Google’s app stores, for Apple and Android phones made in the last five years with relatively new operating systems.