Saskatchewan will be participating in the government of Canada's COVID Alert App, and it should be available for people in the province to use in the coming weeks, Premier Scott Moe said at Wednesday's COVID-19 update.
While some consultation between the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the government of Canada is ongoing, the province is moving forward with its implementation, he said.
"We had consultations and briefings with the minister as recently as a couple of hours ago, so we will be moving forward with this," Moe said.
"We hope to have it available, for those that choose, here in Saskatchewan over the course of the next couple of weeks and it will be, again, one additional tool that will be available to the people of this province."
The government of Canada's website says the aim of the app, which is designed to notify people of possible exposures before they develop symptoms, is to help "break the cycle of infection."
The app does not use GPS or track a user's location, nor does it use their name, address or health information.
Instead, it uses Bluetooth communication to exchange random codes with nearby phones, the website explains. Each day, the app checks the list of codes from people who report they've tested positive. If an app user has been in contact with one of those people in the past 14 days, they'll get a notification.
Anyone can download the app, but only people in provinces that have signed on can report a diagnosis. Ontario was the first province to sign on in late July, and Alberta said last month it would switch from a provincial app to the federal one.
Moe said the federal government adopted much of the technology from the government of Ontario and is currently working with other provinces to determine if the app will be functioning in their jurisdictions, and when it might launch.
News the app will be arriving in Saskatchewan was welcome information for Regina resident Aspen Huggins.
"I'm really looking forward to our province joining in the full functionality of that app. I like that it's just another piece of information for me when I'm trying to control risk for my family," said Huggins, who uses the non-gender-specific pronoun they.
Huggins has read up on the app's security and privacy features, and is confident it will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect their privacy. Being an early adopter of the technology was also important for them.
"I downloaded the app in hopes that we would join on later … knowing that if I was participating in it, even before that decision was made in Saskatchewan, then it would be useful to me the very first day that Saskatchewan is officially participating."
Huggins said they're now encouraging others to download the app, which needs participation from the public in order to work effectively.
"The more people that have it, the more likely the information from the app will be more comprehensive."
Recommendation against interprovincial travel
The announcement about the app comes as the province is recommending people avoid non-essential interprovincial travel. Premier Moe stressed Wednesday that while cases in Saskatchewan are low, they are spiking in other Western Canadian provinces.
Manitoba's daily case counts have levelled off in recent days, with 13 new cases reported Wednesday, for a total of 454 active cases in the province.
However, the province recorded its largest spike in active cases on Aug. 21, with 98 new cases, after a stretch of 13 days earlier in the summer when no new cases were reported.
Saskatchewan, however, saw only two new cases reported Wednesday, the 17th straight day in which the number of new cases was below 10. The new cases were in the northwest and south central zones.
As of Wednesday, 29 cases were considered active, the province said. That's the lowest the active case count has been since June 14, when the province had 24 active cases. The lowest that number has dropped since April 1 was on June 7, when Saskatchewan had 16 active cases.
Of Saskatchewan's 1,624 reported COVID-19 cases to date, 1,571 people have recovered. A total of 24 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan have died.
Travellers won't have to isolate: Moe
Moe said while there are currently no plans to implement mandatory isolation for those who return from travelling, he said if people can stay home, they should, saying one of the best ways to keep COVID-19 out of the school system — set to welcome back kids next week — is to keep COVID-19 out of the community.
The western provinces' economies "are very, very integrated," said Moe when asked why his government wasn't opting for mandatory self-isolation, with people travelling back and forth between Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta on a regular basis.
While the province is asking people to stay home when they can, there will be no consequences for those choosing to ignore the recommendation, Moe said, adding he's confident people will heed the warning.
"The goal is not to put teeth to the ask, the goal is to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19," he said. "This recommendation comes from our chief medical health officer and to date, people in the province have followed the recommendations very, very well."
Moe said anyone leaving the province for any reason should be cautious about the number of people they're coming into contact with, and should self-monitor for 14 days to ensure they're not exhibiting any symptoms.
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said daily case numbers in the province have been "extremely low," noting the virus's reproduction rate — the number of other people a single infected person infects — has also slowed substantially in the province.
The reproduction rate is "well under one throughout the province, so I think that's a big achievement for everyone in Saskatchewan," he said.
However, Moe said while the province is making progress, his government has not had any extensive discussions about implementing Phase 5 of Saskatchewan's reopening plan, which would remove limits on mass gatherings across the province.