ONTARIO — Three days after its launch, over 100,000 people have taken up the Ontario government’s invitation to download that new COVID-19 tracing app on their mobile devices.
COVID Alert anonymously informs users if they’ve been near another user who has tested positive for the virus.
Available free, the government encourages as many Ontarians as possible to install the app because “the more people who download the app, the more effective it will be in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”
The Android app stored show over 100,000 downloads for COVID Alert, while Apple doesn’t indicate a number on iOS. It’s receiving mostly good user reviews, though, averaging 4.4 out of five stars on Android and 4.8 on iOS as of Aug. 3.
The app owes its existence to the Ontario Digital Service and volunteers at Shopify. Their work laid the foundation for the final product officially put out by the federal government — Health Canada — on July 31st.
Making its national debut in Ontario, the app was developed in consultation with the Privacy Commissioners of Canada and Ontario “to ensure the highest level of privacy for everyone using it.” It does not collect personal information or health data, and does not know or track the location, name, address, or contacts of any user, according to the province.
The app employs a phone’s bluetooth function to exchange random codes with nearby phones. When users who have tested positive for the virus enter their one-time key from Ontario’s test results website, the app notifies anyone who has been within two metres of that person for 15 minutes in the previous 14 days. Identities are not disclosed; neither are the time and place of exposure. If a user receives a message about possible exposure to the virus, they should follow the public health advice given on the app and get tested.
“Built with a privacy-first approach, COVID Alert is a safe and easy-to-use tool that Ontarians can download to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community from COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “This Ontario-made app keeps people informed about being potentially exposed to the virus and allows them to act quickly to stop the spread of the virus. It is a key tool in our case and contact management strategy. I encourage all Ontarians to download the app, as early detection of cases will be important as we continue to carefully reopen more of the province.”
The app “will be a critical part of our case and contact management strategy,” said Premier Doug Ford. “This innovative tool was developed by some of the best and brightest minds in our province, working in partnership with Ottawa. As businesses open their doors and schools prepare for September, we need to help stop the spread and keep others safe by downloading this COVID Alert app.”
“To stay safe as more of the province reopens, Ontarians should continue to follow public health guidelines including physical distancing with people not in their social circle, wearing a face covering if physical distancing is a challenge, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, and if anyone thinks they have COVID-19, get tested,” said local MPP Jim McDonell.
The federal government is also working with other provinces and territories to get those jurisdictions on board with the app in the coming weeks and months.