Yukon will 'wait and see' on COVID Alert app, says top doctor

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Yukon's chief medical officer has no immediate plans to adopt the federal COVID Alert app, saying they want to "wait and see" how it rolls out in other regions.

However, Yukoners can still download the app, said Dr. Brendan Hanley, and it might be useful when travelling.

"With our ongoing low COVID[-19] activity, we don't need to be in a rush to decide," Hanley said at his weekly update on Wednesday.

The COVID Alert app tracks the locations of phones relative to other phones, and notifies users if they have been close to another app user who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app does not share names or health information, and relies on people voluntarily uploading a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

But Hanley said the app does not distinguish between "high risk and low risk" contacts. For example, passing someone in the grocery store isn't the same risk as having a long conversation at a bar, he said.

The app could add unnecessary demand to COVID-19 testing, tracking and public health work, said Hanley. He said the app could potentially lead many low-risk people to unnecessarily self-monitor or isolate.

However, "There's nothing to stop you downloading it," Hanley said.

"If you're travelling outside Yukon, it might just come in handy."

At least six regions across Canada are now using the app. British Columbia and the other territories have not yet signed on.

According to data provided by Health Canada, COVID Alert has been downloaded more than 3.4 million times since it was launched July 31.

Yukon will get 10 rapid, portable COVID-19 testing devices

Meanwhile, Yukon expects to get ten rapid, portable molecular COVID-19 testing devices by early 2021.

Health Canada approved the ID NOW test, which can provide results within 15 minutes, last week. Hanley said the portable, easy-to-use machines will be particularly useful for rural and remote areas. While accurate, he said, the current testing method will remain the "gold standard."

Yukon getting $12.4 million for healthcare, shelters

Also at the update, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said the territory is getting an extra $12.4 million from Ottawa, which will go in part to shelters, housing, addictions treatment, hospitals, mental health supports and long-term care.

The money will provide $7.7 million for healthcare, he said, and $4.7 million to support "vulnerable populations."

Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland
Government of Yukon/Alistair Maitland

Silver said shelters in both Whitehorse and the communities will get part of the funding.

The money is from a separate northern agreement as part of the federal government's Safe Restart funding, which now sits at around $26 million for the Yukon.