COVID Alert app is still active in N.L., Health Canada says following Haggie's comments

·3 min read
Health Minister John Haggie misspoke about the COVID Alert app being no longer in use in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the Department of Health and Community Services. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Health Minister John Haggie misspoke about the COVID Alert app being no longer in use in Newfoundland and Labrador, according to the Department of Health and Community Services. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador - image credit)
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Health says Minister John Haggie misspoke about the federal government's COVID-19 Alert app no longer being active, according to a statement.

When asked during Wednesday's live provincial briefing whether positive case notifications were still being shared through the app, Haggie said the app hadn't been maintained for some time.

"The federal government gave up on the COVID Alert app some time ago, several months before Christmas in actual fact. They stopped supporting it and they stopped updating their dashboard," he said.

"The uptake was so low that the effort to maintain those sites was unreasonable given the fact that it was yielding so little."

In a statement released Thursday, the Health Department said Haggie hadn't received the most up-to-date information and clarified the app still remains active in Newfoundland and Labrador, adding it isn't always used for the sake of speed or efficiency.

"Public Health often engages affected officials using contact tracing as the fastest and most efficient way to reach appropriate close contacts and get them into isolation. Officials do not always utilize the COVID Alert app," part of the statement reads.

The statement adds the app is "one of the tools in the toolbox" for the province's COVID-19 response.

The app launched in July 2020 and has been downloaded by over 6.7 million Canadians, according to a statement from Health Canada in response to questions from CBC News. The app uses Bluetooth signals to exchange random codes with nearby phones that have the app installed and is updated monthly.

Over 37,000 exposure codes have been issued as of early December, said Health Canada.

Residents asked to do their own contact tracing

The dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador has overwhelmed contact tracers in the province, forcing government to ask the public to take contact tracing into their own hands.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald announced changes to contact tracing procedure Wednesday, asking anyone who tests positive for the virus to notify their close contacts as far back as 72 hours before they started showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Those who test positive will receive a letter from public health officials detailing isolation and testing requirements, which the person will be able to send to their close contacts.

"We know that our best defence against Omicron is speed. And this is the quickest and most efficient way for us to notify contacts and get them into isolation," Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

"That's the most important thing that we can do."

Fitzgerald said the province's COVID-19 test results portal will also now include positive test results. People who see a positive result on the portal are asked to immediately go into self-isolation and await further instructions from public health.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 349 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the majority of which are located in the Eastern Health region. The province's health authorities continues to release several COVID exposure notices per day.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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